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Monday, July 20, 2009

Albert King: Live Wire/Blues Power


1) Watermelon Man; 2) Blues Power; 3) Night Stomp; 4) Blues At Sunrise; 5) Please Love Me; 6) Look Out.

"A permanent member of the Fillmore family, a great guitarist — this is Mr. Albert King!" His­tory buffs should pay particular attention to the word 'permanent' on behalf of the announcer: it shows that flower power kids, contrary to rumours, were not bred with the specific purpose of being compatible with trippy jams of the Jefferson Airplane and the like, but, on the contrary, were quite susceptible to all kinds of music, including grandfather-oriented stuff like Albert King, who could be electric for all he liked, but who, after all, just played straightforward old blues.

On the other hand, maybe it is simply all due to King's personal charisma which he lays down on the audience much thicker than the actual licks he plays. If anything, Live Wire gives a great image of him as a showman, never forgetting that interacting with the audience is the most vital part of his show. All through the songs, particularly 'Blues Power', he keeps talking to the people, telling them little bits of stories, asking them questions, getting them on their feet, teasing them with bits of silence followed by musical explosions, and despite the fact that his arsenal of guitar tricks is limited and they start repeating themselves heavily after a while, he makes the audience love this game so much that the applause is just as heavy on the last numbers as on the first ones — even though, to tell the truth, there isn't all that much, musically, to distinguish the last numbers from the first.

It is also obvious just how intent he is on keeping his cool. Big man, big guitar, big sound, standing calm and collected, playing it slow and meticulous, every now and then letting out a lightning bolt of notes, but also every now and then just keeping it down, self-assured and content about just knowing that he can do whatever he wants on that instrument — he just won't, if he doesn't want to. He is no flamboyant eccentric like Jimi Hendrix, way above playing with his teeth; but every once in a while he just lets out this bit of insane laughter — "ha ha!" — translated into layman speak as: «yes brother, pretty simple for me, could be pretty simple for you, too, but no dice, brother, it's me on that stage, and you in that audience». Then he lets rip, and everyone is plugged back in his seat, mouth open, ears ringing.

Of course, «letting rip» is as relative as you would expect. Predictably, while playing live, King goes for lengthier solos, and he is neither as inventive nor as technically efficient as the white Bri­tish guy with the slow hand that spent a lot of time ripping him off. There are two types of solos here: the fast one and the slow one, and that is all you need to know. But it is not the solos themselves that are important: it's the Pre­sence. They should be taken together with the stage patter, with the ha-ha's, with the aahs and oohs, and particularly with the long rant at the start of 'Blues Power': "Everybody understands the blues...". Is that really true? Perhaps the whole essence of the blues is also in the Presence. And, boring or not in purely musical terms, this album con­veys blues Presence better than any other recording from 1968.

Not that the heart has managed to convince the brain of it — the latter is not supposed to rationally understand things like «presence» — but at least it has managed to let the brain stay out of the way for a bit, allowing Live Wire to receive a solid thumbs up for capturing a great showman at the top of his show powers.

Check "Live Wire / Blues Power" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Live Wire / Blues Power" (MP3) on Amazon

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