Saturday, September 29, 2012

The acoustic side of Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B’Nois King

For their latest recording (and Delta Groove debut) Close To The Bone, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B’Nois King unplug themselves for an album of acoustic performances. The two are supported on this recording by a variety of individuals over the course of the 14 that include Randy Chortkoff, Bob Corritore, Pieter 'Big Pete' van der Plijim, and Lynwood Slim on harmonica; Kirk Fletcher, Shawn Pittman and Paul Size on guitar; Fred Kaplan on piano; Willie J. Campbell on bass; and Jimi Bott on drums. Most of 14 selections are originals with a couple of the songs adaptations of recordings from the Texas blues tradition.

This does present a different side of the two. While they both play quite vigorously on this album, their contrasting guitar attacks much more effectively play each other when amplified. While they play acoustically, neither is adept at early blues guitar style, so their rendition of a Ramblin’ Thomas or Texas Alexander song has a distinctly different flavor than the original country blues recording. This is not to complain about the music contained here, but to make you aware of what one will not hear.

The music is quite well played. B’Nois King is such an appealing singer and they have some quite appealing songs. A lively rendition of Ramblin’ Thomas’ Poor Boy Blues opens this album with some nice guitar interplay as King sings about rambling from Louisiana to Texas. My Best Friend has a wistful lyric about not having listened to this lady who told him slow down and not grow up too fast. Shawn Pittman contributes a slide guitar solo that adds to the feel here. Keep Her Around is a lively shuffle with a with a strong King vocal and a harmonica trio (Chortkoff, Corritore and Big Pete) that is part of the driving small group. She Got Rid Of Me, is a tale about a high school lover who King supported through college. When she finished her schooling she schooled him, getting on her feet and kicking him out to the street, making big dough and telling B’Nois he had to go.

While songs like Yankin’ My Chain, and She Got Rid Of Me, explore typical blues themes of the relations between the sexes, there are a couple of very strong topical blues, Drowning in Red Ink, and Ordinary Man. “Drowning” is a small group performance with a melody that suggests Charles Brown’s I Want To Go Home with Fred Kaplan adding piano while King sings about holding on to his job, his confidence being shot and just holding on till the next pay day as they are cutting back on everyone’s pay while the boss gives himself a raise. Ordinary Man (another small group performance with Kirk Fletcher added on guitar although Kubek and King solo) lambastes politicians who put on a suit and wave old glory while playing games with folks lives. Lynwood Slim adds some very nice harmonica to the duo’s rearrangement of Texas Alexander’s Bad Luck Child, an effective performance that tames the field holler qualities of Alexander’s original.

Close To The Bone is a welcome addition to the Kubek-King discography. While I would recommend other of their recordings prior to this one, their fans will likely, as I did, enjoy this change of pace.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove.

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