BRITT’S BESTS AND BUSTS
An unapologetically opinionated guide to the upcoming week in live music: Aug. 8-14
Gig of the Week
Booker T & the MG’s/Ruthie Foster (Minnesota Zoo, Saturday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., $39)
You can put Booker T & The MG’s at the head of a short line of people with the right to claim they invented soul music. As the house band for the Stax label during the 1960s, they greased the beats for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, and so many others — not to mention their own signature from way back in 1962, “Green Onions,” with its pimp-walking organ doodle and slow, simmering groove. Motown sounded like the Partridge Family by comparison.
When Jerry Wexler needed a band to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records (home to Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin) in 1986, he went out and got the MG’s. Ditto the heads of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the opening night of its museum in Cleveland in 1995. The redoubtable drummer Al Jackson has passed, but the other three members — Booker T. Jones on keys, the incredible guitarist and composer Steve Cropper, and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn — are still going strong in their mid-’60s, mixing the indelible Stax standards they minted in Memphis into a set with “Green Onions,” “Hip Hug-Her” and their other instrumental riffs.
The cherry on top is opener Ruthie Foster, a bluesy gospel soul singer from Austin, Texas, who has deservedly filled the Dakota as a headliner a couple of times already in the past few years. Her latest, last year’s “the phenomenal Ruthie Foster,” has a gorgeous cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor,” that sounds like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” (you’ll toss your head back to hear it better), then follows it with an a cappella take on Son House’s “People Grinnin’ In Your Face” that’s as raw and beautiful as a Walker Evans photograph.
Jim Marentic Quartet (Artists’ Quarter, Friday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 9, 9 p.m., $15).
The saxophonist Marentic (you can hear him above) is the sort of yeoman hard-bopper AQ co-owner Kenny Horst loves to hire — and play with on the drums. I frankly didn’t know he’d received three composition grants from the National Endowment for the Arts until I read the club’s blurb — it’s his heavy-toned horn that gets my endorsement. After being a frequent out-of-town guest, Marentic has moved back home from 30 years in LA and NYC, and is rewarded with the ruggedly inventive Anthony Cox as his bassist on this two-night stand. Pianist Mikkel Romstead rounds out the quartet.
Lou Donaldson Quartet (Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Monday-Tuesday, Aug. 11-12, 7 and 9:30 p.m., $16-$25)
At 81, Donaldson never reinvents the wheel — the odds of you hearing something familiar, especially his hit, “Alligator Boogaloo,” are pretty good. But the alto saxophonist is either an impeccable professional or a chronically compelling creature of habit, because the same ol’ same ol’ is very good very good every time out. He’ll be with a B-3 organist, natch, laying on that vintage Blue Note-label fatback with some Charlie Parker-laden bop changes mixed in for good measure.
Melissa Etheridge (The O’Shaughnessy Theater at the College of St. Catherine, Saturday, Aug. 9, 8 p.m. $36-$101)
The folks who run the all-female St. Kate’s are to be commended for acknowledging that lesbians too can be “Women of Substance” (as their performing artist series is frequently dubbed). Just from memory, I can recall seeing Lily Tomlin (twice), Sweet Honey in the Rock, Joan Armatrading, Meredith Monk and Tina & the B-Sides perform on campus, and k.d. laing is coming in October. It makes the scaredy-cats at St. Thomas look petty by comparison.
But Melissa Etheridge? C’mon, this is a singer with one gear, a full-throated faux blues, and you half-wish she would still grind it. I know she’s supposedly cut back, gotten quieter since she beat cancer and in other ways “matured.” But the absence of her lone strength — the Janis Joplin/Bob Seger caterwaul — does not add up to nuance. Vintage Melissa Etheridge is like listening to someone ride herd in a monster truck — it gets old pretty quickly, but still beats the prequel — that moment of impact when your tires start crushing the chrome.
Verging on the pathetic
Coolio (Bogart’s, Friday, Aug. 8, 9:30 p.m. ($15 in advance, $18 at the door)
If you didn’t “slide, slide, slippity slide” along the dance floor to Coolio’s ace remake of Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage” 14 long years ago, you at least appreciated how “Gangsta’s Paradise,” his interpolation of Stevie’s “Pastime Paradise” a year later, put a bow on the moralistic tale of Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-Marine turned schoolteacher saving black kids from ignorance with equal doses of Bob Dylan and trite plot twists in the movie “Dangerous Minds.” That was the pinnacle of Coolio’s career.
“Return of the Gangsta” from 2006 was his embarrassing attempt to play up his Compton Cali bona fides as a real bad dude — it sold squat. Since then, he just released another disc, playfully titled “Steal Hear,” he’s hosting a profanity-laced cooking show over the Internet and he’s playing this gig in the gangsta hotbed of Apple Valley. Here’s hoping in another decade or two he can look back on it all and chuckle.