Review by Paul Monkhouse by MPM
One of the best guitarists and songwriters in the country, Bernie Marsden has every reason to rest on his laurels but, being the man he is, that’s never an option.
This new album sees him paying tribute to Albert, BB and Freddie King, covering material that these greats first recorded over their glittering careers.
It’s obviously a passion project, the six-stringer pouring his heart and soul into these tracks, lifting them from the ordinary and superficial covers that others have done of these songs.
The fact that Marsden has the quicksilver chops and feel to bring these off certainly adds to the sheen and the combination of the great source material and this lifelong devotion to his craft is certainly a mightily powerful one.
Fresh from his collaboration with the New Yorker on Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Royal Tea’ album, Marsden went into an Oxfordshire studio and, accompanied by a crack set of other musicians and laid down the twelve tracks that comprise ‘Kings’.
As befits such a project, its genesis has its root in a conversation that he was having with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the latter saying that it would be great to pay tribute to all the artists that inspired them.
Running with this idea, this new release is the first in an evolving series with an album dedicated to tracks released by the mighty Chess Records label planned to be the follow up.
Consisting of twelve cuts, including two self-penned instrumentals, the former Whitesnake guitarist seems to be having an absolute blast on this album, managing somehow to make it distinctly his but whilst respectfully tipping the hat to the originals.
The shuffling and upbeat blues of Albert King’s ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ opens things in fine style before he heads into one of the most well-known songs in the genre, ‘Key To The Highway’. With some meaty guitar and great keys, this version of the Charles Seager / Big Bill Broonzy classic stands against other well known takes like Eric Claptons and, arguably, rings truer and with more soul.
The foot comes off the gas with a beautifully laid back ‘Help Me Through The Day’, its vividly beating and open heart very much on display here. Albert King’s ‘I’ll Play The Blues For You’ has a wonderful midnight bar feel, rocking you gently into the wee small hours, Marsden’s vocals full on some nice little intonational touches and flicks.
Woman Across The River’ nicely blends wonderfully chilled playing with some slow boogie passages. After this selection of Albert and Freddie numbers, it was time that BB’s talent was spotlighted, ‘Help The Poor’ performing a deliciously seductive sashay out of the speakers.
‘Me And My Guitar’ is full of forthright swagger, a powerful and committed stomper that it guaranteed to make you move. The prominent keys of ‘Living On The Highway’ give the song an added bounce, bringing its own splashes of colour that set of fireworks in your synapses as much as the guitar and the classic smoky blues of ‘You’ve Got To Lover Her With A Feeling’ highlights Marsden’s sublime playing in this mid paced outing.
From that, it’s a stately run through of ‘Same Old Blues’ that oozes feel and the rocking and cocksure Bernie instrumentals ‘Runaway’ and ‘Uptown Train’ to close the release.
Managing to hit all its targets with ease, ‘Kings’ should appeal to the casual blues fan and to the hardcore who, whilst feeling that the originals are untouchable, will find much to enjoy here, not least of which is the consistently classy fretwork.
It’s Marsden’s fiftieth year in the business in 2022 and you can tell by every note here that here is a master craftsman, the guitar as much part of him as any limb, the perfect bringing together of man and machine.
Kings’ is a blazing testament to a huge talent, whilst celebrating three of the biggest names in the business and as such couldn’t be finer. The electric guitar was made for this.
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