Review: The groove is still the thing for Steve Cropper

Memphis soul man Steve Cropper has spent his career carving out great grooves on guitar, and his new album is all about the beat

Steve Cropper, “Fire It Up” (Provogue Records)

Perhaps no guitarist has carved out more great grooves than Memphis soul man Steve Cropper, and his new album is all about the beat.

The songs on “Fire It Up” mix it up in finding different ways to fill the dance floor, from the toe-tapper “One Good Turn” and hip-shaker “I’m Not Havin’ It” to the foot-stomper “Far Away,” finger-snapper “Heartbreak Street” and palate-cleanser “Bush Hog.”

Cropper has made his career in a supporting role, and even on his own album, he’s a team player. His rhythm guitar work serves as a master class in elegant simplicity, with overdubs allowing Cropper to work his magic in multiple parts. He plays only brief, occasional solos that will keep shoulders swaying.

Lead singer Roger C. Reale’s husky tenor is a good fit for the material, most of which he helped Cropper write. Longtime Cropper collaborator Jon Tiven also co-wrote and co-produced, and the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere is among the guest artists. The set was recorded in Nashville but is rooted in Memphis, echoes of Cropper’s glorious 1960s work with the Stax label evident in every greasy, delicious riff.