Blues Bytes

Pick Hit

May 2019

Alligator Records

KingfishI sometimes get blues artist recommendations from some of the most unlikely sources. Nearly two years ago a former major league baseball pitcher between innings at a game showed me a Youtube video of this red-hot teenaged guitar slinger from Clarksdale, Mississippi named Kingfish. That's about all I knew about Christone "Kingfish" Ingram until his self-titled album was recently released by Alligator Records. After one listening to Kingfish, now 20, I was convinced that this young cat is going to be a big part of the future of the blues. Because he counts Jimi Hendrix and Prince among his many influences, it would be easy to label Kingfish's music as blues/rock, but to these ears this young man's music is pretty much straight-ahead blues.

Recorded in Nashville, this album has drummer Tom Hambridge's fingerprints all over it --- and that's a good thing. Hambridge produced the recordings, played drums on every cut, and co-wrote 11 of the 12 cuts here. Several well-known guests pop in here and there throughout the album.

Kingfish kicks off with a heavy mid-tempo shuffle, "Outside Of This Town," with Kingfish (the artist) showing off his guitar prowess right from the start. The first significant guest artist joins in on the slow blues "Fresh Out," with Buddy Guy contributing his usual exemplary guitar work while Kingfish tells us what he's run out of in his life, ranging from coffee, butter and milk while he really wants to convey the void in his love life. Keb' Mo' joins in on guitar for one of his frequent guest spots on this album. Wrapping up the first quarter of the album is another mid-tempo shuffle, "It Ain't Right," with Kingfish putting down some stinging guitar licks.

My favorite cut, "Been Here Before," comes next. It's a very touching acoustic number in which Kingfish talks very honestly about his uncertainty in himself and how he's always been different than his peers, singing, "...Some kids like the great hits, but I dig Guitar Slim ..." But his grandma has repeatedly reassured him that he's special, hinting that he's a reincarnated old soul by telling Kingfish, "... Child, you've been here before ..." This song will likely stick with the listener for quite some time, perhaps even causing some self-reflection.

Billy Branch joins the band on the up-tempo shuffle "If You Love Me," starting the song out with a killer harmonica intro and adding a good solo later while Hambridge drives the beat on drums. All that Kingfish wants from his woman is for her to tell him she loves him, with the wah wah effect on guitar helping to emphasize his desires. Obviously things didn't work out the way he wanted, as Kingfish sings about his unsuccessful love life on "Love Ain't My Favorite Word" while throwing down some appropriate slow blues guitar licks. He sings, "... Love Ain't my favorite word, so many people have used it in vein ..."

'Keb 'Mo shares vocals with Kingfish and contributes nice acoustic guitar work on the pleasant, uplifting number "Listen," with Kingfish throwing in some Allman-esque guitar while singing, "...Every day your sunshine comes peeking through my blinds ..." Kingfish gets autobiographical on the funky number "Before I'm Old," as he sings about what he's done so far in his 20 years on earth as well as what's ahead for him. "Believe These Blues" is a slower snaky tune on which he shares his belief that conditions exist for the blues to be around now and in the future.

Kingfish finds himself in a real mess on "Trouble," waking up in another bed and finding multiple text messages and voicemails on his phone from his woman asking his whereabouts. The guitar work helps Kingfish express his feeling of doom while Hambridge drives the beat with good polyrhythmic drumming. I love the sparse instrumentation and back porch feel of "Hard Times," with Kingfish singing a slow blues about how everyone is experiencing hard times while 'Keb Mo' backs him on acoustic resonator guitar.

Closing this outstanding album is a nice, slow late-night blues, "That's Fine By Me," highlighted by Marty Sammon's tastefully subtle piano playing.

Mr. Christone Ingram is a rising star in the blues world, and Kingfish proves it. This is a "must have" for any blues lover and an early candidate for blues album of the year.

--- Bill Mitchell



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