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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Albert King: Live '69

ALBERT KING: LIVE '69 (1969; 2003)

1) Introduction; 2) Why Are You So Mean To Me; 3) As The Years Go Passing By; 4) Please Come Back To Me; 5) Crosscut Saw; 6) Personal Manager.

For those who just can't get enough of «prime-time era» King, this relatively recent archival release from Tomato's vaults will temporarily quench their thirst. Unlike the Fillmore sets, this show was recorded on May 29, 1969 at a small club in Wisconsin, offering a chance to assess Albert in a somewhat more intimate and informal setting rather than Bill Graham's «kingly» envi­ronment. The sound and mix quality is not perfect, but decent enough not to pay it a lot of atten­tion — at least, the guitar was properly miked, and whenever the big guy gets to solo (which, predictably, occupies about 80% of the running time), his wailing rises high and above everything else, including the horns section (which he'd only added recently — not that it matters a lot, since the horns are actually quite poorly miked, and never add much to the overall sound).

The setlist is short and far from perfect: at the center of the album sits ʽPlease Come Back To Meʼ, a completely generic piece of 12-bar blues stretched out to a 17-minute running time. Albert puts in as much fire as he can, but even he cannot help repeating all of his trademark licks and bends for at least several times over those seventeen minutes, and if you already know them by heart from the Fillmore days, you won't be particularly happy having to go through them all over again. On the other hand, this is at least partially compensated by the only (I think) officially released live version of ʽAs The Years Go Passing Byʼ from the Sixties — sung and played beautifully, with a couple soul-probing solos where «every note counts», and with the guitar so high in the mix and the club acoustics so pressing in on you that the experience can be quite mind-blowing.

For serious fans, I think, the inclusion of that song alone is well worth the price; most of the others would probably be happier if some of the jamming were cut to make way for a ʽBorn Under A Bad Signʼ or, at least, for more contemporary material (from Years Gone By, for instance) — represented here only by a brief instrumental snippet of ʽYou Don't Love Meʼ in the introduction. On the other hand, Live '69 is as good a first introduction into the live blues power of Albert King as anything else. Also, the basic guitar tone is thicker and lower here than the thin, shrill tone we hear on the Fillmore records — probably a different set of amps, since the man seems to be playing the same Flying-V model as usual. So if you like your King «plumper» rather than «leaner», this record might even have a small edge on the classic Fillmore stuff, from that aspect at least.

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