Albert King (1923-92) was one of the “kings” of the blues, along with B.B. and Freddie. His recording career began during 1962 and continued until his death in 1992. His most creative and commercially success period took place during his time signed to Stax Records, 1966-75. The eight studio albums released during his time with the label added up to one of the better catalogues of blues music in history.
The Concord Music Group has just resurrected one of his key albums, I’ll Play the Blues for You, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The album’s sound has been enhanced with 24-bit remastering, new liner notes by music historian Bill Dahl, plus four previously unreleased bonus tracks. He was backed by the post-Otis Redding Bar-Kays, The Movement (which supported Isaac Hayes), and the Memphis Horns.
The album was a unique mixture of hardcore blues and the funky grooves that were associated with the Stax label. Through it all, King delivered some of the smoothest vocals of his career.
The title track was a seven minute song that epitomized the release. It was a steady-building blues classic, combining his blues guitar play against the funk of The Movement and the clear blasts of the Memphis Horns. He added an extended monologue that united the two sections of the song. The track remained one of King’s signature songs the rest of his career.
“Angel Of Mercy” was a lesson in the art of slow blues. His pile-driving guitar lines just bludgeon the listener. Ann Peebles hit version of “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” came to the attention of King, who took the song in a different direction as he turned it into a minor-key blues classic. “I’ll Be Doggone” was a huge hit for Marvin Gaye. They probably should have left out the overdubbed crowd response but his forceful version, right out of the Motown songbook, showed why rhythm and blues are words that go hand in hand. “Answer to the Laundromat Blues” was a sequel to his 1966 “Laundromat Blues.” The lyrics are somewhat dated, but the in-your-face guitar work is eternal.
Sometimes bonus tracks add little to a release, but the material included here is just about worth the price of admission by themselves. There is a stripped down version of “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge” minus the horns, plus an alternate performance of “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” with a different horn arrangement and no spoken interlude.
The other two bonus tracks are “I Need a Love,” a frenetic upbeat tune with the horns blasting away and an ominous vocal holding the song together, and the instrumental, “Albert’s Stomp,” which is more funky than bluesy.
I’ll Play the Blues for You presents Albert King at his best. It remains one of the important blues album releases from the early 1970s.