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Monday, November 23, 2009

Albert King: I'm In A Phone Booth


ALBERT KING: I'M IN A PHONE BOOTH, BABY (1984)

1) Phone Booth; 2) Dust My Broom; 3) The Sky Is Crying; 4) Brother, Go Ahead And Take Her; 5) Your Bread Ain't Done; 6) Firing Line (I Don't Play With Your Woman, You Don't Play With Mine); 7) The Game Goes On; 8) Truck Load Of Lovin'; 9) You Gotta Sacrifice.

King's final studio album — not just for Fantasy, but altogether — is a slight improvement over the total lifelessness of Crosscut Saw, but not by much. You know things cannot be particularly good if he starts remaking his own Tomato-era material ('Truck Load Of Lovin'), or if the best tracks on the album turn out to be million-year old Elmore James standards like 'Dust My Broom' and 'The Sky Is Crying'.

Alas, by this time it is evident that the problem lies with Albert as much as it lies with his side­men. He is given more opportunity to show off, the backing band does not get in the way so ob­no­xiously, and they even bring back the horn players to try and valiantly recreate, as genuinely as possible, a classic Stax environment. But it does not work; King clearly cannot be driven into ac­tion. He just keeps playing the same tired old licks over and over again. Every doggone second of the album is more predictable than the next United Nations session, and what could be more safe and predictable than that?..

Following Phone Booth, King retired for good, and that was the wisest decision he could have made; after all, no one could, or should, have banned him from recreating his past glories live as often as he wanted, and there was quite obviously no chance left at shaping some future ones. He spent eight more years occasionally resting and occasionally touring, before passing away in 1992; some live releases may be available from these years, but they are strictly for fans, particu­larly those who had the bad luck of never seeing the man live in action himself.

It should, nevertheless, be stressed that the man never "sold out" completely, despite the occasio­nally lame trend-following on some of the Tomato records; he just slowly faded out. Pretty much all the interesting material he released from 1976 to 1984 could be stored on half an audio CD, yet none of these records tarnish his reputation the way, say, Rod Stewart's last thirty years have pretty much annihilated his. Ignore them if you do not worship the man like the celestial bulldo­zer some think he is, and concentrate on his Stax legacy, which will remain forever as some of the most passionate and inventive electric blues music captured on record.

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