The Definitive Albert King on Stax, new from the Concord Music Group, collects thirty-four classic blues cuts on two CDs. Most of disc one focuses on King’s ’60s work, while the second disc draws from the first half of the ’70s. If you like blues guitar, you probably already know about the late Albert King (1923-1992). If you haven’t heard his music, this collection of more than two hours of highlights is essential.
As with so many legendary soul artists recording for the Stax label in the ’60s, Booker T. & the M.G.s often provided backing for King’s guitar and vocals. As a result, many of the early tracks on Definitive feature Steve Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on keys, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums. Among them is one of King’s signature tunes, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” written by Booker T. Jones with William Bell. There are a couple of interesting reinterpretations of classic rock & roll tunes late in disc one, including a rollicking “Hound Dog” and a slow-simmering take on the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
Disc two features backing on a number of tracks by members of another Stax house band, the Bar-Kays. Originally the backing band of Otis Redding, most of the group perished along with Redding in a 1967 plane crash. The two surviving members then put a new version of the band together. The five tracks with the Bar-Kays providing rhythm also feature backing vocals by Hot Buttered Soul and horns by The Memphis Horns, both being Stax regulars. These tunes feature funkier, more expansive grooves than the ’60s material. A smoking live track, a King original called “Match Box Blues,” is among the other highlights of disc two.
Newly written liner notes by Bill Dahl more than live up the standard set by previous Definitive releases. Biographical information, as well as song-by-song recording information, provides interesting reading for new and longtime fans alike. For deep, soulful blues, you can’t miss with The Definitive Albert King on Stax.