There’s something exciting about discovering talent; finding a player or a voice that you had not familiarity with before and now you know you will follow their success in the future. Even listening to as many albums as I do, I know that it’ll never be more than a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg of great music that exists in this world.
When I find that rare certain something in a performer it just lights me up inside and I’ll quickly become a fan and try to listen to as much of their music as I can find.
Today was one of those days as I discovered a singer and guitar player who, despite his years in the industry, had never crossed my radar. His name is Guy King and his new album TRUTH has just been released by Delmark. Right there, that should tell you something as Delmark is not in the habit of putting out music that is half-baked and King is a great vocalist in the jazz blues field.
Born in rural Israel, King discovered the blues at an early age and when he came to the United States, he steeped himself in the music of New Orleans and Memphis before making his way to Chicago where he became a fixture in many of the clubs.
King plays his own style of blues. It’s the blues with a smattering of soul and a heaping helping of swing jazz. His vocal style is fluid, he has a great smooth voice and his guitar work is impeccable. Listening to the album immediately puts you in the swankiest nightclub in town – the kind where everyone in the big band on stage is all dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns.
It’s the kind of album I could listen to all day and never grow tired of a single song.
King is a writer or co-writer of four songs out of the 15 on the album. But he has chosen the others wisely and covered songs written by the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Watson, Percy Mayfield, Steve Cropper, Don Covey, Harold Arlen, Doc Pomus, and Dr. John.
Aside from doing the vocals and playing guitar, King is backed by Amr Marcin Fahmy on Rhodes and B3 organ; Jake Vinsel on bass; George Fludas on drums; Marques Carroll on trumpet; Christopher Neal on tenor sax; Brent Griffin Jr. on baritone sax; and Sarah Marie Young, Kiara Shackelford, and Jihan Murray-Smith providing backing vocals.
The album kicks off with a fun up-tempo number from Ray Charles, The Same Think That Can Make You Laugh (Can Make You Cry). The combination of Fahmy’s keys and the horn section keep the number light and it’s the kind of song that lets you know you are in for a fun time with the album. King’s guitar rocks and the song is infectious and it is a nice homage to Charles, one of King’s favorites.
The title track Truth is next. It’s a slow bluesy number that uses the horns to set the mood. Fludas’ drums keep a strange beat and the song is mysterious and the lyrics are compelling. It’s unusual to put a song like this on so early, but the surprise lets us know that King and his band are in total control and it’s going to be a fascinating ride.
Following the darkness is a little light with My Happiness which features Sarah Marie Young on co-lead vocals. The transformation is nice and the number swings, and the duet is playful.
The band gets a little funky with Johnny Watson’s It’s About The Dollar Bill. King gets to stretch out his soul roots on the number and the horn section punctuates the song nicely. King’s guitar gets a solid workout on an extended break. Very cool.
We slow things down with A Day In A Life With The Blues, an old school sounding song written by King and David Ritz. This is the kind of song that could easily have been a 1940’s number, it sounds authentic and King wrings every bit of emotion out of the lyrics. Love this song.
We’re swinging again with Cookin’ In Style, a Percy Mayfield number that relies heavily on keys and horns to carry the song before tears it up with a guitar lead. It’s fun and bouncy.
The tempo is still upbeat with Steve Cropper and Don Covey’s See Saw. You can’t beat that STAX sound and King’s guitar echoes Cropper’s signature sound. Putting the two songs together is a nice touch, they are similar in tone and approach and go together well.
Make that three in a row with Hey Now. While a hair slower than the other two, it fits well with them. The band gets a workout and then King’s guitar takes a solid lead.
There’s an extended intro to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s classic, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues. King does the vocals justice and the band is spot on in their interpretation of the well-known number. The jazz feel is unmistakable and it’s admirable that King and Company have chosen this less travelled path of musical mastery.
The Doc Pomus - Dr. John collaboration, There Must Be A Better World Somewhere, is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s one of those songs that just stayed with me and I get very critical of some of the people who have covered it. King does a very credible job with the song, stripping down the sound for the most part – just keyboards and the drums keeping time. He lets his expressive voice take center stage and wrings all of the emotion out of the song. When he brings in the guitar, those six strings almost seem to cry on their own. It’s a beautiful interpretation.
King Thing is written by King himself. It’s got a blues backbone with a little bit of swing jazz thrown in for fun. This instrumental gives his band a chance to play a little bit. It just helps to reinforce my opinion that King has assembled a great band of musicians who take the job seriously but know how to have some fun while they are playing.
King and company kick it up with Bad Case Of Love, a swinging number guaranteed to get people out of their seats and on to the dance floor. Griffin’s baritone sax punctuates much of the song giving it a funky feel and King’s guitar takes over on the rest.
Things slow down for the deep blues of Something’s Wrong. It’s one of those songs that sounds like a torch singer would sing in a noir movie from the ‘50’s. Carroll’s muted trumpet is haunting and the song really gets inside of you and leaves you with a feeling of the unknown. Very cool.
Things swing a little more with If The Washing Don’t Get You (The Rinsing Will). It’s the story of a man biding his time while his woman starts doing him wrong. Her day is going to come, and listening to the controlled anger in King’s guitar work, that day may not be far off.
The album winds up with One Hundred Ways, a quiet love song that lets King’s vocals dominate the song. It’s a song that restores us from the depths of the blues and transforms the feel of the darkness into one of light.
Collaborator and co-songwriter on three songs, David Ritz, said it so well in his liner notes, King “understood that, beyond its standard licks, the blues are about surprise. He understood that the pursuit of the blues is, paradoxically, a pursuit of pure joy. And he understood that the crucial role – the heroic role – of the bluesman is to transform pain into pleasure, despair into hope, and heartache into happiness.”
Be sure to check out King and his journey from the Mid-East to the Mid-West and discover the rest of his output and his tour schedule. You can find his corner of the web at http://www.guyking.net/. I think you’ll have a swinging time finding out about him. For my money, he’s the real King of Swinging Blues!
(Photo of TRUTH borrowed from Guy King's website. If you are the copyright owner and want us to remove it, tell the truth and we will comply.)