Kings Go Forth – The Outsiders Are Back

January 01, 1970

(Luaka Bop)


This spring is shaping up to be a perfect storm for funk and
soul devotees. We’ve already tasted the Muscle Shoals-meets-Motor City
muscularity of the latest Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings record, I Learned the Hard Way (reviewed here), while
May will bring a new offering from Bettye LaVette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, with takes on Stones,
Who, Beatles, Animals, etc., that hearken directly back to how in the sixties soul
kings and queens like Otis, Aretha and Wilson often recast rock hits with an
R&B twist.


Meanwhile, welcome the debut from Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth, a multi-racial,
multi-generational ten-piece bursting with gritty grooves, horny horns, biting guitar
licks, sensual lead vocals and edgy harmonies. Co-founded a few years ago by Andy
Noble (bassist; he also operates Milwaukee record shop Lotus Land) and Black Wolf
(aka Jesse Davis, vocalist; in the ‘70s he performed with local outfit The
Essentials), Kings Go Forth initially pinged the radar with a handful of 7″ers
for the Mr. C’s label, and once bloggers and tastemakers such as DJ Shadow took
up the band’s cause, the Kings’ trajectory was set on “ascent.” Enter the Luaka
Bop label, who signed the band last year.


First things first: to properly prep yourself for the Kings,
go grab one of your old Curtis Mayfield platters (you’ve got more than a few,
right?) and let that spin awhile. Then cue up The Outsiders Are Back: right from the get-go, with “One Day,”
you’re in classic Curtis territory, specifically “Move On Up” – from the bongos/congas
percussion-powered arrangement and urgent-yet-economical horn charts to Wolf’s rich,
high-keening vocals and the optimistic/positivity vibe of the lyrics.


The Curtis comparison isn’t exactly coincidental, by the way;
during his Essentials days, Wolf cut some sides at Mayfield’s Curtom Studios.
And the vocal similarity is striking. But the Kings are extraordinarily dynamic
in their own right, as evidenced by the insistent, driving “I Don’t Love You No
More” (check the “whooooooooh…” vocal intro: pure Bobby “Across 110th Street” Womack), the sensual, gospellish Philly soul of “Fight With Love” and
the War/Budos Band-like funk-rocker “Paradise Lost” (which, with its sultry
horns, staccato fretboard swipes and chaingang harmony vocals, could be an
outtake from a long-lost Blaxploitation flick).


All the elements come together magnificently in the
six-minute “Don’t Take My Shadow,” a mélange of Mayfield, Gamble & Huff and
Holland-Dozier-Holland buoyed by a classic four-square disco beat (all that’s
missing is the hi-hat sizzle), a pristine melody that gets doubled via elegant
piano and sweeping strings, and a soaring lead/harmony vocal arrangement bringing
to mind a blending of Spinners and Temptations. Midway through the number all
the instruments except the percussion drops out; the piano gently returns to
reprise the core melody, and that’s followed by shuddery/sexy guitar and
elegant swathes of strings, and then next the vocals, until the entire band
finally touches back down for one final glorious, soulful starburst. It’s one
of those suck-the-breath-from-your-lungs moments that’s increasingly rare these
days, but god, it’s a great one
that’ll leave you shivering, the kind that transports you back when you could
flip on the radio and feel the earth move beneath your feet by the latest
Motown, Atlantic, Stax or Philadelphia International single. (Don’t take my word
for it: download the Tom Moulton remix of “Don’t Take My Shadow” at the Kings


And that’s kind of the point, as the album title itself
subtly telegraphs: Kings Go Forth’s sound is impeccably vintage, but with an
inspired undercurrent of freshness, suggesting a group of soul renegades who
dropped off the radar some time ago but now are back – with a vengeance. Everything old is new again, and boy, ain’t
you glad for that.


Incidentally, in a stroke that not only speaks to the Kings’
good instincts but also lends this project an additional layer of cool, the
sleeve artwork was created by none other than Mingering Mike, he of faux-record
sleeve outsider artist fame. If you’re not familiar with him or haven’t seen
the Mingering Mike book displaying
his early work and outlining his unusual story, check out his official site,


Standout Tracks: “Don’t Take My Shadow,” “I Don’t Love You No More,” “One Day,” “Paradise Lost” FRED MILLS


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