Artist: Guy King
Release Date: 02/26/2016
Somehow there just may be some unstated pressure when both your first name and surname call to mind the greatest of bluesmen. Surely it doesn’t hurt to get a major endorsement from Buddy Guy along the way, but Israeli-born, up-from-the-ranks Chicago bluesman Guy King is emerging as one of the best and polished blues artists in recent years. This is his fourth album, but the first with a major label that will bring him the wider recognition he deserves.
Blues fans in Chicago have known King for the past 15 years, as the lead guitarist and band leader for the late Willie Kent who passed in 2006. Since then King has been leading his own blues and jazz bands and eventually got the break he needed one night while playing at Buddy Guy’s club, Legends. Noted author David Ritz was working upstairs with Buddy Guy on his autobiography when Buddy did something out of the ordinary, and invited Ritz downstairs to hear King’s live act. Ritz is also a Grammy award winning songwriter (“Sexual Healing” with Marvin Gaye), and that chance meeting led to the collaboration of Ritz and King on three of the songs here. King has managed to forge a crystal clean sound that’s uniquely his, a style that’s a mash-up of B.B. King, Albert King and T-Bone Walker. King’s vocals are deeply influenced by Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield, giving his blues that deep soul and jazz-like feel. With production from esteemed producer and journalist Dick Shurman, it’s clear that King got more than a little help from his friends.
King leads his big band, complete with a three-piece horn section and three background vocalists, for a generous 15 tracks. Four of the tunes are from Mayfield and Charles with others in that similar vein (Pomus/Rebennack’s “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” Johnny Guitar Watson’s “It’s About the Dollar Bill” and Cropper/Covay’s “See Saw,” as just a few examples. These tracks as well as the collaborative ones, “Truth,” “My Happiness” (a duet with Sarah Marie Young) and “A Day in the Life of the Blues” are absolutely riveting. There is no filler either.
As King himself says, “Yes, it’s blues but it’s also more than blues. It’s deep soul and swinging jazz. My aim is to organically combine those three strains to create music that speaks to the widest possible audience. I don’t do it intellectually. I do it naturally.” King’s aim is true. He’s managed to capture that horn-driven blues sound from the fifties, meld it into what he’s learned playing 250-300 nights a year either clubs or as an opening act, and present this enticing album with his own contemporary flourishes and unique stylings.
– Jim Hynes