Oh, how the guitar player in me (albeit hidden deep) turns green with envy when presented with an album from a twenty-four-year-old talent who is already streets ahead of me (for streets, read counties or countries!) Such is the case with the first full-length release from King Soloman Hicks; after his Carrying The Torch Of The Blues release, he now serves up a mix of originals and covers and applies his take on blues with a lot of rock layered in. The album is called Harlem and reflects his upbringing in that famed area of Manhattan and so you can also expect a little jazz and soul to appear in some of the compositions, although it is blues that is always in the vanguard.
Opening with I’d Rather Be Blind, we are left in no doubt of his playing abilities as the soul/funk/blues melange intro is first class and the subtle phrases he fits in between the lyrics lifts the song from anything similar…the piano and Hammond in the background is so sympathetic it could be missed but must certainly be listened for. The guitar solos show an understanding of how many notes it takes to carry a message and are imaginative. (Too short!) Everyday I Sing The Blues surprises as it starts very like it would have done if Cream had covered it…so don’t expect it to follow the Joe Williams or similar versions: this is closer to Crossroads and I think I even heard that very riff blended succinctly into the song. A couple of listens will make you forget the original and appreciate this blues-rock approach which does work and it is worth waiting for the fading solo…although please stop fading them! What The Devil Loves makes me think of Kenny Wayne doing a Free intro and easing into an electric country-ish blues. That may sound strange but it is actually a nicely composed song that again benefits from those subtle keyboards and a very nicely played and paced, solo of few notes.
My favourite, so far, is the instrumental shuffle of 421 South Main: here the keys provide great backing for his multi-tracked guitar parts that do provide verses and choruses and the whole comes together very well. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know gets a slightly Latin treatment that makes it very different to the Al Cooper version I am familiar with…it works but tends to be a bit too languid for me. In saying that the guitar is always worth listening to and the fuzzed solo could have contributed a lot more if it lasted longer. Headed Back To Memphis lifts us back to rockier blues as the title is reflected in the weightier riff and, way down in the mix, some really good slide guitar. Now if we’d had a slide solo the song would have been so much better…in my humble at least. Love Is Alive is next and funk is to the fore with neat sax lines interspersed with tasty guitar runs. It’s an enjoyable instrumental that would have sat nicely on the portmanteau album, Music From Free Creek.
Have Mercy On Me is a frantic shuffle that has an over-familiar feel to it but is rescued by a neat solo that combines clever chords and runs. Funk inflected blues power the short but sweet instrumental Riverside Drive and the soloing is exquisite if over before it has begun. It’s Alright will draw Joe Walsh comparisons but has enough individuality to get away with it and if only the solo had been extended, it would have been even more Soloman and a whole lot stronger…again in my humble. The final track, Help Me, is the Sonny Boy Williamson song and here it has runs aplenty after each line. It is hard to take this on first listen as the original was so powerful. However, if you try to put that behind you, there is much to be enjoyed in the playing and the expression that he pulls out of each note and virtually every note available from each string and fret is explored at some point. Persevere and you will be rewarded.
In summary, then, this is an album that promises a hell of a lot for the future of this young and ridiculously talented guitarist. It a strong album on its own too and I doubt if any electric blues lover will not thoroughly enjoy it.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful album of electric blues guitar
- Rather Be Blind
- Every Day I Sing The Blues
- What The Devil Loves
- 421 South Main
- I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
- Headed Back To Memphis
- My Love Is Alive
- Have Mercy On Me
- Riverside Drive
- It’s Alright
- Help Me