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The give and take between artist and audience can sometimes be an elusive one to pin down. Clearly artists are the ones who instigate new movements with their creative choices as a style is taking off, but in order for it to succeed there needs to be a strong listener response to make further excursions worth the time and trouble.

Once established you needed to play to that fanbase’s interests without pandering to them in the process, all while knowing that at any time their tastes may change and you’d have to come up with something new that had the potential to appeal to them in a different way. All of this happens in a natural way, but one without any advance collaboration between the two entities.

Rock ‘n’ roll itself had been created organically by a generation of up and coming artists seeking to establish their own musical personas in a way that distanced them from their predecessors in other fields, and yet depending on which demographic accepted those ideas the future of this music could take many different routes.

When it turned out to be the younger audience who seized upon the movement it quickly served to establish a more progressive (and aggressive) worldview in the material. When a lot of the most fervent fans were either Southern residents or those recently transplanted from the South then it meant that certain thematic topics were (pardon the pun) now on the table… such as the culinary habits of that region.

By aiming squarely at that audience Stick McGhee was hoping to better his chances for being invited to have a seat at the table for the bountiful feast of hits rock ‘n’ roll was busy serving up.


Food For Saints And Sinners
We’ve covered this topic with some relish (no pun intended this time) on previous entries regarding delicacies of Southern cuisine – Pot Likker and Alligator Meat being two of the more memorable ones – and while many of these reviews do come with the song tracks themselves embedded in them, or are at least available to buy through the various Amazon or Apple Music links in the reviews, these are the kind of songs you wish you had food samples available for people to snack on while reading.

Failing that, you’ll have to forgive McGhee for working up an appetite in listeners as he recounts the food available on a typical Southern Menu which runs the gamut of side dishes, entrees and even a desert thrown in over the course of his tale that was designed to get your stomach rumbling.


You’ll note if you read the enclosed menu – another public service brought to you by Spontaneous Lunacy at no extra charge! – that the dishes he’s advertising within the song manage to hit all of the expected meals that made Southern black cuisine so appealing.

But whether his telling about that food in musical terms is appealing is another matter altogether and that’s where this song shows its creative limitations.

The Menu Of Rhythm And Rhyme
The idea itself, the same one we just praised in concept, is pretty blatant, kind of like the A-side, so it was clear they were taking few chances at missing their mark yet again with poorly chosen material. But while in normal circumstances anything so obvious might be insulting to the intelligence of the prospective record buyer, in this case they were clearly hoping that the audience wasn’t about to turn down a good meal.

Southern Menu at least sets up the rather limited story in a plausible way as McGhee recounts his travels across the country – North, East and West, before admitting he prefers heading South due to the food available down there.

We’ll set aside the subhuman treatment white Southerners forced African-Americans to endure – something that hardly would be offset by a good meal or two no matter how hungry you were – and focus instead on what he’s touting as the positive aspect of traveling below the Mason-Dixon line where the way to your heart is through your stomach.

Unfortunately he’s merely ticking off all of the meals he’s hungry for, one after another, and while he does so in a way that manages to be oddly melodic for something that’s essentially just a roll call of food choices, it doesn’t make for a very compelling plot. After all, rarely do you see menus making the New York Times bestseller list.

What helps however is his presentation. McGhee’s vocals are hypnotic at their best, his slightly metallic sheen reverberates nicely on record giving this an alluring sound even if what he’s saying will only have real impact if you’ve gone without breakfast this morning and can’t get out to order lunch.

His delivery is done in a sing-songy patter, certainly reminiscent of Drinkin’ Wine-Spo-Dee-O-Dee in some regard, but more forceful at the same time. I guess to carry the menu theme to its natural conclusion you could say that he’s “ordering” the lyrics, for they sound declarative coming from his mouth as if he’s on the verge of starvation and is not about to wait for the sever to run down today’s specials.

I suppose if you don’t mind having your olfactory senses stimulated without any chance to be satisfied by actually eating what he’s laying out then you won’t mind this rather straightforward recounting of the meals in question. But if you’d rather avoid having your mouth water at the thought of all this food you’d be smarter diverting your attention to the band who provide a better ambiance than you’ll likely get at any roadside diner.


Feed Me!
The musical side of this plate is where you’ll get most of your sustenance and a good deal of the flavor as well. The band is led by his brother Brownie, the veteran blues guitarist and a perfectly willing sideman for rock excursions such as this.

Yet it’s not Brownie that delivers the first notable touch but rather the horns that open things up in the intro by replicating the train’s horn that sets the scene which is about to unfold as Stick tells us about his trip. It’s a well-used trope for sure but that doesn’t make it any less effective and since they don’t lay it on too heavy you’ll likely notice it subliminally without needing to focus on it much.

From there the band kicks Southern Menu into high gear with Brownie’s guitar taking on an ominous tone while joined in lockstep by the piano laying down the steady rhythmic drive. The horns are the punctuation, loud and brash as they cap each line before returning to the kitchen to bring out the next course.

The arrangement is quite filling, so much so that you may imagine you’re getting more to eat than you actually are. Take Brownie’s guitar for instance, it’s a constant presence yet the standalone spots are relatively few in number and rather brief at that. In fact what takes up the most room on the plate is the horn solo which dials things down rather than ramps things up.

It’s a canny choice, offsetting the more aggressive nature exhibited behind the verses, but it works well because it offers a different taste. If everything else being served is spicy then this interlude works well because it’s sweeter and gives you another flavor to cleanse your palate.

It’s all put together pretty well… in restaurant terms it’s got great presentation, from table settings and room décor to plating techniques… that even if the ingredients they use for a lot of the meal aren’t as fresh as you’d like (that brief piano solo is a little stale) you find yourself overlooking that because the next dish makes up for it.

By the time you push yourself away from the table you’ve eaten your fill and enjoyed yourself. The drinks are flowing, the place is packed, there’s a buzz in the air that you get when everyone is satisfied with the service and as a result you’ll leave behind a pretty nice tip.


Wake Up You Cats, Fall In Line
In restaurant reviews there’s always so much you can critique if you want to steer people away from a place… and here too we can do that if we wanted.

We could start by saying there was a long wait time for the table – almost a year since we last got a rock record from Stick McGhee – and that has the tendency to drive hungry customers away. Of course we’ve already acknowledged the fact that they were hardly very creative or ambitious when it came to picking this very basic “casual dining” style in attempt to meet with broad acceptance.

But in the end what usually matters most – whether in music or food – is if the meal tastes good and fills your stomach. To that end any rock fan looking for a bite to eat who knows they’re not wanted at the fine dining establishments in the better part of town should have no trouble finding at least something to suit their taste on this Southern Menu.

It might not be a four star establishment and it wouldn’t make for a highly anticipated A-side to get McGhee’s diminished momentum back up to speed but as a quick bite of a B-side just off the highway this will be more than enough to tide you over until you sit down at the bigger banquets that are still to come in rock ‘n’ roll over the next couple of months.

Bon Appétit… or maybe considering the locale, “Dig in, y’all”.


(Visit the Artist page of Stick McGhee for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)