" The Definitive Albert King on Stax "
Could Have, Should Have Been Better Chronicled
The Concord Music Group continues to expand their reissue catalog. This is their latest edition, a two-CD box set. The popular King Albert has been gone since 1992, but his music still remains fresh, especially on some of these Stax sessions. Thirty-four tracks in total, but not all of the tunes are Stax originals. One is dredged from King Records, six are from the Atlantic vaults even though they were originally offered on Stax, and one is from Fantasy Records. More on that later. Unfortunately, no bonus tracks are offered. A classy touch is the twenty-page booklet of liner notes, mostly from the capable hands of Bill Dahl.
I've always enjoyed some of this era of Albert King on Stax and felt that Steve Cropper was the near-perfect guitarist to complement soul-fueled Albert's well known strengths and energies. There's also nothing wrong with also having ace sidemen like Booker T., Duck Dunn, Al Jackson, and the Memphis Horns on several tracks. That said, and as expected, there aren't many surprises on this collection. All of King's classics are here: "Laundromat Blues," "Oh, Pretty Woman," "Crosscut Saw," and "Born Under a Bad Sign." They all sound as important as they once were when released.
But I have some quibbles, mainly from the selections chosen. First and foremost, from the outstanding Jammed Together recording (Albert King, Pops Staples, and Steve Cropper) we get an edited down version of the classic "Tupelo" and, other than that, there's only one other track lifted from that unique session, the Steve Cropper-penned "Water," which is not sung by King, it's Cropper's vocals. Go figure. From the classic Live Wire-Blues Power there's only one inclusion, King's "Blues Power." Are you kidding me? That entire recording still gives me goose bumps! Instead, there's odd selections from Blues for Elvis, King Does the King's Things, that being Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog." And from the long forgotten Lovejoy, Albert covers the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman." Yawn.
Disc Two opens with Don Nix' "Everyone Wants to go to Heaven," a tune King had some popularity with and was also a fixture in his repertoire. Ah, but I'd forgotten about The Lost Session, an album that featured John Mayall's jazz-blues fusion backing band: Blue Mitchell, Clifford Solomon, Ernie Watts, Larry Taylor, Ron Selico, as well as Mayall himself. But that might have well been a lost session. Only one track, "Tell Me What True Love Is," is culled here. An interesting note is that Mayall and King co-authored this song.
Another one-shot addition, "Matchbox Blues," is lifted from the Live at Wattstax recording, but it really isn't all that memorable. What I'd learned here was that "Crosscut Saw" was remade in 1974; no big deal. I did enjoy Mack Rice's holiday track "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," but how many times would one listen to this, and would you call this definitive Albert?
Disc Two closes with "Dust My Broom" from I'm In a Phone Booth, Baby, which was not originally issued on Stax, it was a Fantasy release, but I guess Concord can claim those rights. Why? Because they own both the Stax and Fantasy catalog. Aha! Also missing are any tunes from the Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan sessions on Stax, but I guess it's a somewhat understandable omission: Stax recently reissued In Session as a two-disc set, one CD and one DVD.
Long story short, this "definitive" set could have been researched a bit more smartly and should have included stronger Albert King material as opposed to what might sell. But in the end, it's still a treasure to have Albert King remembered and documented.
Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: email@example.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com