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Albert King: Born Under A Bad Sign (SACD)

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Albert King: Born Under A Bad Sign (SACD)
Originally released in the psychedelicized year of 1967, the altogether earthy blues recording that is Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign may have gone over the heads of those succumbing to flower power during the Summer of Love. Nevertheless, it made an impression on those who were learning to dote on the genre, many of whom were musicians who not only acted upon the inspiration they found in the music, but also tendered dutiful homage to the artist. Cream and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are only two sets of such devoted admirers.

Re-released in 2023 on vinyl and SACD to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Albert King's birth, this reissue of the blues icon's first album might well have included some of the same kind of historical information as on previous editions, over and above an essay on the back cover by Deanie Parker.

Still, a close perusal of the album credits reveals contributions from Booker T & the MG's plus The Memphis Horns and thus outlines what a timeless trove of creativity this album represents. It is certainly worth noting too that keyboardist Jones co-wrote this title song with William Bell, an early label signing and subsequent success as both artist and composer on this groundbreaking Southern music imprimatur.

The music of Born Under A Bad Sign triumphs over any faults in curation. The cohesion of the eleven cuts is all the more remarkable considering many were originally issued as singles before amalgamation into this long-player. Still, the slower and quieter selections that dominate side two might well have been interspersed with the up-tempo likes of "Crosscut Saw" (covered by Eric Clapton on Money & Cigarettes (Warner Bros., 1983) or "The Hunter," on the debut of British powerhouse Free's debut album Tons of Sobs (Island, 1969).

But that is not to minimize the touching virtues of "As the Years Go Passing By" or "The Very Thought of You." Such observation only suggests the juxtaposition of softer selections with the upbeat likes of "Kansas City"—written by Lieber and Stoller who composed multiple hits for Elvis Presley, among many others—would accentuate the impact of all the tracks, regardless of playing time (many are of less than three minutes duration). With its stately, elegant horn arrangement, "Oh Pretty Woman" stands out on its own terms though.

Albert King's singing is gutsy and rich even when it is quiet, as on the late-night balladry of "The Very Thought Of You"—he reminds of Nat King Cole of all people here—while his unconventional playing on the Gibson Flying V is a tremendous delight in and of itself throughout. The airy tone of the flute during "The Very Thought of You" underscores how piercing a tone the Mississippi native coaxed from the fretboard (he chose not to restring his instrument of choice for his southpaw proclivities), while.

Unfortunately, in and of itself, this centennial package doesn't wholly measure up to the milestone of this iconic bluesman (perhaps it is just a means to the end of vinyl availability?). While alternate recordings from these sessions, present on previous reissues, might not hold compelling attraction for any except the most rabid blues aficionados, their inclusion would be more than just purely academic, but actually enlightening in terms of how the final takes were forged.

Liner notes composed from a modern perspective would be illuminating too, as would full and complete musician, recording and production credits. Such minutiae could perhaps be researched at minimal cost for addition to the package, then printed, in whole or in part, on the inside panel of the jewel box where an otherwise generic label logo appears.

The absence of such content on this edition leaves it looking too much like a budget item. The SACD sound quality also belies the superior audio of other titles in the configuration such as Bob Dylan and the The Rolling Stones, at least to some degree, but Kevin Gray's mastering at least adds definition, if not much presence, to these sixty-plus- year-old recordings (the immediacy of "Oh Pretty Woman" is an exception on the latter front).

At a time when concept albums were coming into vogue, this is one long-player that impresses by its very lack of pretension. And there is not a cliche to be found blemishing any of its eleven tracks. Hardly the least of its distinctions, those qualities are, in fact, the very hallmark of Albert King's genre-defining take on the blues.

Contrary to the ominous implications of its title, Born Under A Bad Sign is a microcosm of the uplifting nature of this seminal record as well as the man who made it.

Track Listing

Born Under A Bad Sign; Crosscut Saw; Kansas City; Oh, Pretty Woman; Down Don’t Bother Me; The Hunter; I Almost Lost My Mind; Personal Manager; Laundromat Blues; As The Years Go Passing by; The Very Thought Of You.

Personnel

Albert King
guitar, electric
Steve Cropper
guitar, electric
Donald 'Duck' Dunn
bass, electric
Booker T. Jones
keyboards
The Memphis Horns
band / ensemble / orchestra
Additional Instrumentation

Isaac Hayes: piano.

Album information

Title: Born Under A Bad Sign (SACD) | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Stax Records


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