Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign (remaster) (review)

Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign (remastered) (Stax/Concord) review

He’s being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame this year – here’s one really good reason why

A colossally important album in the history of the the blues, Born Under a Bad Sign has just received the remastered treatment from Stax/Concord Music Group.  What Albert King’s debut for Stax did in 1967 is bridge the gap between rock n’ roll and blues.  There had been many blues artists before that had jammed with the rock guys, but you got the impression that some of them didn’t understand, or care, about how they were influencing a new movement.  Instead, Albert embraced it.

Backed by the legendary Booker T & the MG’s (Booker T Jones on keyboards, Steve Cropper on rhythm guitar, Duck “Duck” Dunn on bass, & Al Jackson on drums), King unleashed his finest collection of songs – an album that can truly stand as a pillar of the genre.  The record’s mix of electrified Chicago blues soaked in Memphis soul and funk ended up sounding like something all together different.

It’s amazing how many stone-cold classics occupy this album – and how many have become staples of any blues band worth their salt.  “Born Under a Bad Sign,” beginning with blaring horns, thunderous bass and pounding piano, it’s ominous chords set the mood for the whole album.  The shuffling “Crosscut Saw” has King’s stinging guitar front and center – you can hear him talk as he solos.  Cropper lays down some of the dirtiest rhythm guitar ever on the brooding “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

“Laundromat Blues” was the first single King cut for the label – his guitar & vocals have a conversation with each other throughout the song.  Dunn’s bass really propels the cover of “Kansas City” – it swings in a way that the original from Wilbert Harrison never did.  King also shows off his smooth vocal prowess on the slow ballad “I Almost Lost My Mind” – complete with a flute solo!

And then there’s “Personal Manager” – he lays down a series of jaw-dropping bends during his solo that’s sure to send chills down your spine, and send other guitarists back to the practice room.

Another thing to note is that most of these songs are under three minutes! Every bar blues band in the world should take notice – all that endless noodling is pointless.  Albert says what he has to say and gets out, never overstaying his welcome.

This newly remastered edition contains five bonus tracks – there’s an extra chorus to “Crosscut Saw,” and “Personal Manger” starts to get funky in the middle, something the released version didn’t do.  There’s also “Untitled Instrumental” which features some of the finest guitar playing of the whole album.  It’s so good, you wish they’d put vocals to it.  The remastering is excellent – bringing out the warmness of the bass & drums, while still allowing King’s guitar plenty of room to cut through the mix.

Born Under a Bad Sign did something remarkable – it bridged the gap between the traditional blues coming from the Delta, and the hard rock that was emanating from Britain – turning King into a bona fide star, and changing the landscape of the blues forever. If you call yourself a blues fan, you gotta have this one in your collection.   –Tony Peters