Albert We Hardly Knew Ye

I was missing a King until this last Christmas, when my nephew gave me an iTunes gift card. Despite being an iPod owner for 5 years, I'd never actually bought a track off Apple's music store, preferring to own the artifact to a digital replica. (And who wants "Protected AAC file"s to worry about?) So what was I going to blow $25 bucks on a track at a time? I decided to sample the work of bluesman Albert King , and boy was that the best 99 cents I ever spent.

I started, naively enough, with 2 tracks late in the career, "Matchbox Blues" and "Call it Stormy Monday" from the album In Session with Stevie Ray Vaughan. I knew some BB King, and Freddie King, and some Buddy Guy, and some Herbert Sumlin, but somehow A. King had escaped my ears until 2005. I was not prepared for what I heard. For right there, in stark contrast to Stevie Ray's immaculate clean-toned rehash of the blues encyclopedia, was a massive telegenic personality blooming in full register -- glormphy, glucking escapements and miracles of smokey phrasings buttering off his flying V like sausages off a grill. Sure, you could hear the regular blues notes and riffs somewhere way deep down in there, but it was so encased in high cholesterol it sat in the listener's head like gobs of paint in the stereo field. Maybe his amp sucked, maybe he never changed his strings, maybe it was that playing a righty's guitar upside down so that fat strings were your melody strings - whatever, it was pure glumpy gold. SRV tries his darndest for 5 minutes to blow the lid off the place with virtuoso shiny nothings, and then here comes Albert back in, slinkin' a big fat loogie of a lead line across the pond. Surely some of the uncanniness of Hendrix' style came from this gentle giant.

I went on to download "Born Under a Bad Sign" to get a level-set on his studio prime, and it's a giant mountain of Stax horns and slabby rythym guitars. His lyrics are hilariously mundane and his voice is the twin of his lead lines, but the amazing thing is the guitar tone - molasses on jumpers, ketchup in a Tesla coil. Paint never sounded so good.

Posted: Mon - March 14, 2005 at 07:45 PM         |