Thursday, December 5, 2019

Christone Ingram - Kingfish

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been on my radar for a while of course.  The kid – he’s just 20 – has been touted all over the place as “the future of the Blues”, so his name would be hard to miss.  It’s just taken me some time to get round to his debut album Kingfish.  And having done so, I can belatedly confirm young Christone is pretty darn good.
His quality is summed up by one song, ‘Been Here Before’.  One of several co-writes with producer Tom Hambridge, it’s a simple acoustic blues with a lyric based on his grandma’s perception of Ingram’s uncanny maturity – “that boy’s been here before”.  And the sentiment is borne out by the delivery, with a neat guitar motif, minimalist backing, and a
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram - "Get in there!"
“less is more” Kingfish solo.  And in large measure that’s the story of the album.  We have here a 20 year old with a rich, molasses-like voice, who prefers varied, subtle guitar playing to wanton shredding.  A grown-up, in other words.
Hailing from Clarksdale, a legendary stop on the Mississippi blues trail, Ingram nevertheless has a curiosity about the wider world, outlined on the opening ‘Outside Of This Town’.  A chunky riff is the entrée for his warm voice and quality phrasing, garnished with stiletto-like guitar licks that are precise not wasteful, and with tension and release in his solo.  As a piece of songwriting it’s not rocket science, but it is well constructed.  And in a similar vein ‘It Ain’t Right’ may be a fairly perfunctory 12 bar, but it’s well put across, with a sparkling solo combining quick trills and long sustained notes.
There’s well handled social commentary on ‘Believe These Blues’ and ‘Hard Times’, both penned by Hambridge with Richard Fleming.  The first is a slow to mid-tempo blues with a lyrical, varied first solo, that displays real feeling, while the second is another acoustic blues, on which Keb’ Mo’ contributes resonator guitar.
More uptempo variety comes by way of the crisply tripping ‘If You Love Me’, with Ingram showing off some pitter-patter vocal delivery simple drums from Hambridge, embroidered with some squawks of harp from Billy Branch.  And ‘Trouble’ is similarly upbeat, but with a Latin beat provided by congas, some subtle piano colourings from Marty Sammon, and effective guitar/vocal call-and-response work from Ingram.
In contrast the closing slowie ‘That’s Fine By Me’ is all languid resignation about the end of a relationship, with a sparse guitar opening accompanied by jazzy drums, a piano solo that catches the mood, and a fitting guitar solo that grows out of the melody, demonstrating that Ingram is capable of covering all the bases.
I do have a couple of questions mind you.  Like why bother to include ‘Fresh Out’, a song Hambridge and Fleming wrote for Buddy Guy?  Okay, it provides an excuse for Guy to add a verse of vocals and a solo.  But really it’s little more than an amped up version of ‘Come Back Muddy’, from Guy’s album Born To Play Guitar, and anyway I don’t think Ingram needs the leg up.
What’s more, Guy’s presence means that ‘Fresh Out’ features four guitarists.  And  Keb’ Mo’ may have come along to join the party for one song and stuck around to strum on a few more, but with the additional presence of Rob McNelley, several songs feature three guitarists.  There’s not exactly a ‘Born To Run’ wall of sound going on here, and Ingram copes fine as the lone guitarist on songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘That’s Fine By Me’, so what are the others adding to the equation?
Whatever.  Those gripes aside, Christone Ingram is by no means one of those fly-by-night, over-hyped guitar “prodigies”.  On the evidence of Kingfish I wouldn’t saddle with him that “future of the blues” tag, but I’ve no doubt that he’s an artist with a very bright future.

Kingfish was released by Alligator Records on 17 May.

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