Alex Chilton:
(Barnone Records)

The many faces of Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton's latest record, Set, is the legendary Box Tops and Big Star singer/guitarist's first in five years and is out on Bar None Records.

Inspired by a few gigs early last year at New York's Coney Island High club, Chilton took to the studio with bassist Ron Easley and drummer Richard Dworkin and cut nineteen cover tunes in one session, twelve of which make up the new release. Chilton explains: "I had probably ten or twelve tunes in mind when we went into the studio. As the evening wore on, band members would suggest more tunes, and we'd do them. I don't think there are any second takes on the album."

Here's my favorite song from the album, and one of Alex's best recent recorded vocal performances in recent history:

"Hook Me Up"

"Oogum Boogum"

In February of 2000, the often elusive Alex Chilton was in New York City for a couple of gigs at the late, great East Village dive Coney Island High, with bassist Ron Easley and drummer Richard Dworkin. The trio had enough of a groove on playing mostly vintage soul tunes that they went into a Manhattan recording studio, Sear Sound, and kept the music rolling. In a single night, they cut nineteen cover tunes, and Alex produced the session himself. That sort of approach was common in the studios of Memphis, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama during the classic era of sixties soul, though this think-on-your-feet, overdub-free style is an anomaly today. For the Memphis born-and-bred Alex, that's the way he always liked it

Alex and his cohorts had a list of songs for Set, based on what they’d been cooking up on stage, but, as Alex put it, "we thought of a few more once we got there." 

The material on Set ranges from the modern to the classic, the playful to the sexy. It, stays in an R&B groove, save for a trio of jazzy numbers ("April In Paris, " "There Will Never Be Another You ," "Shiny Stockings") and a country tune from the even more elusive Gary Stewart ("Single Again"). What links the lineup is that all these tunes are part of Alex’s personal hit parade. "I know a few scholars of old R&B," he explains, "they play things for me that get me going. Plus I remember things from my teenage years, stuff that was even obscure then."

Growing up in Memphis, Alex would listen to deejay George Klein on WHBO-AM, who would sign off each night with Jesse Blevin's "Goodnight, My Love" -- which reappears here as Alex’s send-off to Set. "Lipstick Traces," written by Allen Toussaint but published under his mother's name, is another youthful fave. But other cuts, like the randy "You've Got a Booger Bear Under There," are fresh off the car radio -- if you happen to be driving around the Deep South, that is.

Jackson, Mississippi-based Malaco Records, which Alex calls "the new Stax," is putting out modern-day soul sides, along with blues, that are getting regular spins on local AM soul stations in small towns throughout the south. "It’s a big deal around here with a certain segment of the population," says Alex. And he draws from those specialized play lists for his own sets.

Even in this era of multi-tasking, few, if any, pop artists can lay claim to the disparate, multi-generational audience Alex maintains with his various, ongoing combos. The Box Tops reform annually to play on the summertime oldies circuit. This August, for example, they played for an after-work crowd in front of Manhattan’s World Trade Center at a radio station-sponsored gig. Big Star still play gigs occasionally too. But Set is perhaps the closest to the "real" Alex -- melding memories of the music that inspired him as a teenager with the sweet soul sounds you can still find today if, like Alex, you know where to look.

Track listing of Set:

  1. Never Found A Girl (Booker Jones/Eddie Floyd/Al Isbell)
  2. Lipstick Traces (Naomi Neville)
  3. Hook Me Up (Johnny Watson)
  4. Oogum Boogum (Alfred J. Smith)
  5. You's A Viper (Leroy Smith)
  6. I Remember Mama (Caesar-Mathis-Sterling-Sterling-Price and Newton)
  7. April In Paris E.Y. (E.Y. Harburg/Vernon Duke)
  8. There Will Never Be Another You (Gordon-Warren)
  9. Single Again (Gary Stewart)
  10. You've Got A Booger Bear Under There (Ollie Hoskins/Quinn Golden)
  11. Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster) 
  12. Goodnight My Love (John Marascallo/George Motola)