Willie King returns with his sophomore effort for Rooster Blues. The new CD, titled Living In A New World, is a studio album, recorded in Memphis, where his previous effort, the stunning Freedom Creek, was recorded "live" at a juke joint in tiny Prairie Point, Mississippi.
While his debut was definitely a gritty, funky journey into the everyday struggles of being black and poor in the South, this follow-up lightens things up a little bit. One difference is the addition of horns and keyboards to the mix, which gives King's music more of a soul feel. The horns are particularly effective on the title cut, which opens the album. It's easily the best track on the album, with Willie's singing being augmented by second vocalist Willie Lee Halbert and those horns and funky guitar grooving along behind. They also contribute mightily to the catchiness of "You Got To Have Love", as well as "America" and "All Tied Up."
John Lee Hooker's influence is heavy throughout the disc, with such tracks as "Crawlin' Blues" and the eight minute "Terrorized," which is the closest thing to a protest song present. "You're So Evil" will remind a lot of listeners of Howlin' Wolf, while the aptly titled "The Stomper" brings to mind R. L. Burnside.
The closing track is a brief monologue in which King describes his vision of the blues and what he was trying to do on this disc. King's band, the Liberators, is as funky a group as you will hear. Their sound meshes seamlessly with King, due to the fact that they have played together for quite some time. All of them are from the same area of East Mississippi and West Alabama, and are obviously comfortable with each other.
If you're a fan of John Lee Hooker or the Fat Possum catalog, you should give this CD a spin. Its mix of gritty blues, nasty funk, and smooth soul will leave you spellbound.
--- Graham Clarke
Editor's Note: A second review of this CD follows.
At 59 years old, it's hard to believe there are only two recordings available by musician/activist Willie King. If you're looking for the "real deal," look no further than his latest recording, Living In A New World (Rooster Blues). Born in the rural and divided South of Alabama, Willie King has a lot to say about race relations. Like his 2000 release, Freedom Creek, King is not inhibited about constructing songs about his political views.
Like the late John Lee Hooker, Willie King's lyrics are simplistic, as if he makes them up as he plays; his vocals are gritty and well traveled. Backed by a stellar band, The Liberators, Willie is not confined to standard blues riffs. A key appendage to the Willie King sound is the second vocal harmonies of Willie Lee Halbert. The uncomplicated sax fills by Kevin Hayes and the unobtrusive keyboards by Henry Smith give the recording a rich and robust feel.
The title track interlaces elements of jazz within this mid-tempo shuffle, as the artist sprinkles spoken word towards the end of this ditty. Willie takes the listener back to old school blues on another laid back shuffle entitled "Crawlin' Blues," where his smooth guitar work is showcased.
With improvised lyrics, "America" is clearly a show of patriotism after the tragedy of September 11th. While Living In A New World has a political ambiance with regard to slavery and racism, two songs are geared directly towards the plight of African Americans, "Is It My Imagination" and "Terrorized."
Musically, Living In A New World is laid back and comfortable. Lyrically this recording is thought provoking, insightful and profound. Not a bad combination, as Willie King's love of this time honored music comes from the heart.
--- Tony Engelhart
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Revised: August 31, 2002 - Version 1.00
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