BY MICHAEL TOLAND
It could be argued that Albert King is the least of the three Kings of the Blues. (The other two being B.B. and Freddie, of course.) His guitar style, while influential, was limited, his singing had little power and he was never much of a songwriter. But then there’s Born Under a Bad Sign. Recorded for Stax, this 1967 record puts all of King’s assets together with Booker T & the MGs and a strong set of tunes to create a certified blues classic. The album contains so many King standards – the menacing “Crosscut Saw,” the joyful “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the bouncing “Kansas City,” the burning “Laundromat Blues” – that it’s practically a greatest hits set on its own. But that doesn’t take into account the deep cuts that give the LP more power – King works his mojo just as well on the horny “The Hunter,” the melancholy “As the Years Go Passing By” and a surprisingly straight take on the old standard “The Very Thought of You” as he does on the hits. And then there’s the title cut, a crawling king snake of a tune that manages to be brooding and anthemic at the same time. The MGs’ sleek backing modernizes King’s traditional approach without diluting it – this is definitely a blues record, not a crossover attempt. Debate King’s merits all you like – and plenty of blues scholars have – but Born Under a Bad Sign is as stone cold classic as it gets.
This edition adds a handful of alternate takes, including a version of “Crosscut Saw” with a much stronger vocal, and one “Untitled Instrumental” for folks who want more of King’s stinging solo style.
DOWNLOAD: “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “As the Years Go Passing By,” “Laundromat Blues”