Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Albert King: “Born Under A Bad Sign” (2013 re-issue) CD Review

Albert King is known for his smooth vocals and, of course, for his incredible guitar work. On Born Under A Bad Sign, he’s backed by that great house band, Booker T. & The MGs, along with the Memphis Horns. Born Under A Bad Sign includes several songs that Albert King had released as singles, such as that great famous blues number, “Laundromat Blues.” But the rest is certainly anything but filler. Just check out that heart-tearing rendition of “As The Years Go Passing By.”

This excellent album is now being re-issued as part of the Stax Remasters series. This new edition features five bonus tracks, all previously unreleased. Four are alternate takes of songs from the album; the fifth is an untitled instrumental tune. This CD has new liner notes by Bill Dahl, though also included are the liner notes from the 2002 re-issue, as well as the original liner notes.

Born Under A Bad Sign opens with the title track. The first version of this song I heard when I was a kid was that by Cream (on Wheels Of Fire), and I was so taken with the tune that I needed to hear the original. And when I heard Albert King, that was that. I still love Cream, of course, but this version by King is fantastic. I’ve heard it countless times, and yet it still works every time I hear it. I really love the presence of the horns. “You know wine and women is all I crave/A big-legged woman going to carry me to my grave/Born under a bad sign/I’ve been down since I began to crawl.”

There is an alternate take of “Born Under A Bad Sign” included in the bonus tracks.  In this one, he reverses the order of a couple of lines, so the rhyme doesn’t work: “I can’t write/I can’t even read/My whole life has been one big fight.” He changes or adds a word here and there, like in the line, “carry me straight to my grave.” “Born Under A Bad Sign” was written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell, and was written specifically for Albert King.

“Crosscut Saw” is such a cool tune, mixing blues vocals with a funky soul hook. Those notes he lets hang in the air really make me love this song. They’re so bloody delicious. The bonus tracks include an alternate take of this tune, a longer version. “Crosscut Saw” was written by R.G. Ford.

“Kansas City” is a song that has always worked for me, no matter who is covering it. But Albert King’s rendition is definitely a stand-out. He states things so simply, and in such a straightforward manner in the vocals. So when he sings, “Well, I may take a plane/I may take a train/But if I have to walk I’m going just the same,” you know he’s telling you the truth. (By the way, the second time through he sings, “Well, I might take a plane/I might take a train.”) The horns add a certain fun element. And I love the bass line.

“Down Don’t Bother Me” is a track written by Albert King. It opens with the line, “I’ve been down so long, you know down don’t bother me.” The subject is typical blues stuff – a woman who doesn’t treat him right – but Albert King totally owns it. He sings, “I bought you a fur coat for Christmas and a diamond ring/Now you’ve got the nerve to tell me that my love don’t mean a thing.” (Of course, the line about buying someone a fur coat for Christmas and a diamond ring was also in "Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You.") But he ends the song with the more positive line, “I’m gonna take all my troubles, and cast them in the deep blue sea.” (Though part of me wonders if he means to drown the woman.)

“The Hunter” has an intense, driving rhythm, which fits so perfectly with his smooth vocal delivery. And somehow when he says “love gun,” it’s not at all silly. He makes it work. I love those high notes on his guitar over that great groove. An alternate take is included in the bonus tracks – where you can hear the song counted off. “The Hunter” was written by Booker T. Jones, Carl Wells, Al Jackson Jr., Donald Dunn and Steve Cropper.

“I Almost Lost My Mind” is wonderful, and quite a bit different from the other tunes. Check out his vocal performance – it’s sweet and gentle, and completely moving. This is a beautiful song, and has some very nice stuff on piano too. “I Almost Lost My Mind” was written by Ivory Joe Hunter.

I love how “Personal Manager” allows itself to get nice and quiet at moments. While Albert King sings, “If you sign my contract, baby, you know all of your worries is over for you” he’s not overselling himself. He’s so smooth and sincere that you imagine the woman signing herself over immediately. And once she’s done so, around the song’s two-minute mark, then the band just plays. And man, do they play, with the guitar and the horns blending well. And then King keeps it going with a perfect solo. An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks. "Personal Manager" was written by Albert King and David Porter.

The most surprising song on the record is a fantastic version of “The Very Thought Of You,” written by Ray Noble.  Again, we get to see what Albert King can do vocally. What a tremendous talent. This is a beautiful rendition. This song has some great work on horns, particularly Andrew Love on saxophone.

This re-issue concludes with the untitled instrumental track. This features a great simple groove with some excellent work on guitar, and some playful, fun stuff on horns. There are a couple of surprising (and seriously cool) moments. I totally dig this track.

CD Track List

  1. Born Under A Bad Sign
  2. Crosscut Saw
  3. Kansas City
  4. Oh, Pretty Woman
  5. Down Don’t Bother Me
  6. The Hunter
  7. I Almost Lost My Mind
  8. Personal Manager
  9. Laundromat Blues
  10. As The Years Go Passing By
  11. The Very Thought Of You
  12. Born Under A Bad Sign
  13. Crosscut Saw
  14. The Hunter
  15. Personal Manager
  16. Untitled Instrumental

This special re-issue of Born Under A Bad Sign was remastered by Joe Tarantino (the Stax Remasters Series Director is Nick Phillips). It is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2013 through Concord Music Group.

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