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Monday, July 6, 2009

Albert King: The Big Blues


1) Let's Have A Natural Ball; 2) What Can I Do To Change Your Mind?; 3) I Get Evil; 4) Had You Told It Like It Was (It Wouldn't Be Like It Is); 5) This Morning; 6) I Walked All Night Long; 7) Don't Throw Your Love On Me Too Strong; 8) Travelin' To California; 9) I've Made Nights By Myself; 10) This Funny Feeling; 11) Ooh-Ee Baby; 12) Dyna Flow.

King's first LP is one of those — quite numerous — records that, today, will not make a big impression on anyone but the finest blues connoisseur. Twelve sides, rather evenly divided into slow blues and fast blues, with a minor touch of rumba here and there to spice up the proceedings, all wedged deeply into the existing formulae of the day. The «fatness» of the sound, achieved by throwing in brass sections, sax solos, and female back-up vocalists, certainly contrasts with, for instance, the more restricted approach of Muddy Waters, but still, by 1962 this kind of «blues-soul» sound was the word of the day, with everyone from Otis Rush to Ray Charles to Freddie King contributing to it with as much as they had to say.

Considering that, as a singer or blueswailer, King is just about as competent as they are (and I will timidly suggest that he has got a lot less vocal versatility than his king-brother Freddie), just about the only thing of interest on the album is his guitar playing. But even here you will have to judge it by the standards of 1962 rather than those of today, when these licks are, like, all printed out on the first page of every beginner's blues course. Back then, however, King's playing was sharp, clean, and precise, much more polished than the classic Fifties sound of guys like Elmore James or Otis Rush. To some people, this sort of blues-de-luxe, with clean, unerring licks and bends backed up with slick production and horns, might have been anticlimactic — exactly the same way that some people today continue to find B. «B. for Burger» King anticlimactic. But then it's all just different angles of show-biz, ain't it?

The common highlight is the successful single 'Don't Throw Your Love On Me Too Strong': three minutes of utterly generic slow blues played by an utterly awesome master of the trade. The only thing that makes it more notable than the other three-minute pieces on here is that it happened to be released as a single and those others did not. (Tough luck.) Eye-catching tunes include the nifty fast opener 'Let's Have A Natural Ball', a brass-driven piece of jump blues where Albert tries to be Big Joe Turner around 1940, but still ends up wooing you with his guitar rather than his singing ability; the morose retro 'Had You Told It Like It Was'; and 'I Get Evil', which is lyrically the same song as Chuck Berry's 'Don't Lie To Me', but musically anticipates the notorious shuffle of 'Cross-Cut Saw' five years later. Anticlimactic moments are few (the happy pop song 'Funny Feeling', all vocal harmonies and no guitar at all, should rather have been done by the likes of the Shirelles, I think), but if you jumped at this with high expectations, the whole experience can be anticlimactic.

To sum up, in the heart vs. brain debate, the latter appeals to historical importance and respect for pro­fes­sionalism, yet the former is way too strictly bored with the monotonousness of it all to yield to these demands. Heart wins with a decisive thumbs down brain is off to collect more supplies.

Check "Big Blues" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Big Blues" (MP3) on Amazon

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