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Monday, September 14, 2009

Albert King: Blues For Elvis


1) Hound Dog; 2) That's All Right; 3) All Shook Up; 4) Jailhouse Rock; 5) Heartbreak Hotel; 6) Don't Be Cruel; 7) One Night; 8) Blue Suede Shoes; 9) Love Me Tender.

A fun idea — a tribute from one King to another; and quite novel at the time, since having jaded bluesmen systematically covering jaded rock'n'rollers was a pretty rare occasion. The album may have been triggered by Elvis' recent comeback, but the songs are all old — completely in line with all the cool people, Albert King did not think that any of Elvis' post-Army stuff merited his serious attention. (And I, personally, would not be happy at the prospect of hearing Albert's pas­sionate take on 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'!)

Unfortunately, it is not nearly as exciting as one might suppose it could have been. King and the Stax people do their best to rearrange the old standards in ways that would, at the same time, preserve the basic melody and structure, but also be true to Albert's own style, and it doesn't always work. Or, rather, it mostly works, but the resulting sound is surprisingly ordinary. Same licks as on Bad Sign, but the horns and the rhythm section lack the latter album's inspiration. Also, listening to Albert sing Elvis is somewhat disconcerting; I'd rather the entire record were instrumental, like his take on 'One Night', where he does «the King's thing» with his guitar much better than with his voice.

The best numbers are those where he gets a chance to stretch out and jam a bit, like the slow, ominous take on 'That's All Right Mama' (you'd think he could have reverted to the style of Ar­thur Crudup's original, but he does it in a much darker fashion), or the jazzified, «loungified» six minute reworking of 'Heartbreak Hotel'. These are classic, if not too outstanding, King material. The rest may take a hike in the thumbs down direction — but, out of mere historical and stylistic curiosity, it is recom­mendable to listen to this at least once.

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