Jump Back Jake and the Sound of Memphis

(Before we begin: I am all over WNEW.com this week. In addition to my regular features—a post yesterday on the Beach Boys’ Smile album, today’s Rock History thing, and another Rock Flashback feature this coming weekend—they’re running my interview with Mister Zero of the Kings as well. So check ’em out already. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.)

I get invited to review new music all the time. It’s not that I’m particularly special—bands and record labels will blast dozens or hundreds of blogs with e-mail solicitations, hoping to get publicity, which is fine. That’s how promotion gets done nowadays. But I rarely respond because 99 percent of the time, I can tell from the description that neither I nor you will be remotely interested in 99 percent of them. We don’t devote a lot of space to hip-hop, techno, or metal around here, but those three genres comprise most of the solicitations I get.

A couple of weeks ago, however, it was a different story when I heard from a guy at Ardent Music in Memphis. The label is based at Ardent Studios, which opened in 1966 and recorded some famous Stax hits including “Soul Man,” the Isaac Hayes album Hot Buttered Soul, and Booker T. and the MGs’ magnificent Abbey Road tribute McLemore Avenue. Ardent’s most famous client, however, was Led Zeppelin—the band mixed Led Zeppelin III there in 1970. ZZ Top, James Taylor, Cheap Trick, and lots of others recorded there as well, so the place has got a significant pedigree. The e-mail invited me to check out Jump Back Jake, describing the band like this: “Jump Back Jake plays raw soul-flavored rock and roll with dance grooves and horn lines that tout a modern writing approach.” Hot damn, I thought. That I’ll listen to.

Jump Back Jake’s debut album is called Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle, and hot damn, indeed—it’s exactly as advertised. The record is inspired by classic soul and blues, full of good horny horns, a mighty Hammond B3, and guitar work both sweet and stinging, but it’s not the work of a nostalgia act, either. According to a Memphis newspaper profile, leader Jake Rabinbach is the sum of his influences, growing up on Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and diggin’ other white soulsters like Tony Joe White and the Sir Douglas Quintet, as well as author Peter Guralnick’s classic Sweet Soul Music, which describes the sort of communal music-making Rabinbach wanted to engage in. He realized fairly early on that while most bands borrow from the past, precious few were borrowing from the Memphis soul of the 1960s. He moved from Brooklyn to Memphis in 2006 and formed Jump Back Jake shortly thereafter with guitarist Jake Vest, drummer Greg Faison, bassist Brandon Robertson, and horn players Nahshon Benford and Paul Morelli. The band’s mission is to take that classic Stax sound and make it relevant right now.

Mission accomplished. Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle is a party record in spots and a smoky late-night groover in others. Picking a favorite track is a tough assignment: I especially dug “Samson,” “Won’t Leave the House,” and “X-Mas Time,” although “The Flood,” “Terrible Mistakes,” and “Too Cool for Love” are strong tracks as well. But you don’t have to take anybody else’s word about Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle—stream the whole thing right here and decide for yourself.

“The Flood”/Jump Back Jake (buy it here)