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Monday, September 7, 2009

Albert King: I Wanna Get Funky


1) I Wanna Get Funky; 2) Playing On Me; 3) Walking The Back Streets And Crying; 4) 'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone; 5) Flat Tire; 6) I Can't Hear Nothing But The Blues; 7) Travelin' Man; 8) Crosscut Saw; 9) That's What The Blues Is All About.

Second time around, the Bar-Kays seem even more confident about knowing how to present King in a modernized neon light. Due to certain star configurations, it could no longer happen that King be commercially successful, or that the critics continue paying him the proper attention; but with time leveling out the inequalities, more and more people should be returning to this period in Albert's career as containing some of his most underrated records.

The official statement is right here at the beginning: "I wanna get funky, I wanna get down", the man proclaims, but, fortunately, not in a hyped-up, rhythm-heavy James Brown kind of way, which does not fit in with King's stateliness one iota. It is a slow-moving, «lumbering» even, grum­bling and growling R'n'B number, bolsterous and braggy on the surface but conscious­ly sad and tired deep within. The catch is, he really wants to get funky, but without ceasing to be bluesy — because it would be unimaginable for Albert King to sacrifice the blues.

The Bar-Kays understand that wish and respect it. 'Playing On Me' is certainly quite funky, and 'Flat Tire' even more so — 'Flat Tire', in fact, borders on disco, and has all the wah-wah stuff and all the chicken scratch guitar playing you need, but King brazenly keeps on playing his old licks, just adapting them a little bit for the new rhythmic structures. Both are fun, danceable, and emoti­onal numbers played with verve, as hot as anything that the Seventies' funk scene was capable of yielding. Somewhat less satisfactory is the funky reworking of 'Crosscut Saw' — perhaps King himself realized that, since midway through the song he reverts the band back to the original rhythmics and finishes the song in a much more traditional manner.

Interwoven between the dance material are more classic-style slow blues numbers, not particular­ly exceptional but not throwaways either; 'Walking The Back Streets And Crying' is aiming for a very high level of desperation, highlighted by shrill-pitched brass blasts from the Memphis Horns, and he also delivers one of the most piercing solos of his career on 'I Can't Hear Nothing But The Blues', effectively putting a stop to claims that he had not produced a single new guitar lick since 1967 (provided such claims were ever voiced).

Fresh, invigorated, modernized, but not desecrated — I Wanna Get Funky is a blueprint model for how all of the old blues heroes should have steered their careers past their prime, and the way I hear it, Albert is still in his prime. The brain is amazed at how intelligent this is, the heart just keeps singing along to the grooves, and a thumbs up is guaranteed from both.

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