music reporter

Stax turns 50 with plenty of soul to spare

Would-be stars come out in droves to audition for "American Idol" in hopes that they can be molded and helped into fame — taught how to sing better, how to dress, how to perform. Thankfully, nonfabricated artistry is alive and well in Memphis. Stax's 50th anniversary celebration last weekend proved that soul music of the past, present and future will remain authentic and above all true to the gritty Memphis sound.

Concord Music Group, which has revived and recently relaunched the label, paid homage to Stax's history during a celebration at the Orpheum in downtown Memphis that was chock-full of stellar performances. Isaac Hayes was greeted with a standing ovation, and some women wept when he performed the theme from "Shaft." In honor of Stax icon Otis Redding, his sons, Dexter and Otis III, carried on the legacy: Dexter's rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness" evoked the spirit of his father, as did Otis III's performance of "Hard to Handle." Also on hand to perform were Stax hitmakers Booker T. & the MGs, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Mavis Staples, Mable John and the Soul Children. Also impressive were performances by new Stax artists intent on carrying on the tradition, including neo-soul diva Angie Stone and Dallas newcomer N'dambi.

The event was hosted by "Idol" judge Randy Jackson and rap legend Chuck D. When Jackson was asked whether the next "Idol" season would have more of a soul flavor, Jackson could not help but gush that he hoped so, adding of the music, "This is amazing."

Tim McGraw has a new hit song, "If You're Reading This," released to radio June 12, that is sure to bring tears to the eyes of even the most apathetic listener. After McGraw performed it last month at the Academy of Country Music Awards, it became an instant success among country music fans and music enthusiasts of all kinds. Country radio stations immediately began playing the televised performance, so McGraw worked quickly with producer Byron Gallimore and Curb Records to remix and release an official version.

The song pays tribute to the soldiers that have died overseas and and offers comfort to their mourning families.

"I have had a lot of industry people ask why Tim would choose to do something other than his current single on an awards show," McGraw's manager Scott Siman says. "I think it takes a true artist with vision to look beyond the status quo and see what might exist by stretching the boundaries."

Since its release, "Reading This" has been steadily climbing the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. McGraw also has a hit duet single with wife Faith Hill, "I Need You," on the charts. McGraw and Hill are currently on their Soul2Soul 2007 Tour.

Nicole Anthony contributed to this column.