Me, I’m more interested in the big picture – the guitar for sure, but also the songs, the arrangements, and Ingram’s singing. From that standpoint, the opening title track ‘662’ ticks all the boxes. Titled after the telephone area code for Clarksdale, it’s a rattlin’ rockin’ blues, and though the dynamic vocal mic used on the first verse is an unnecessary gimmick, the fact that
|The Kingfish wrings that neck|
Pic by Laura Carbone
But it’s with fourth track ‘Another Life Goes By’ that Ingram embarks on a spree of really impressive material. It’s a coolly reflective piece with a mellow, boom-chick groove over which Ingram delivers an articulate lyric about the impact of spiralling hate. “Gotta stop the madness before another life goes by,” he sings, in soulful fashion, backed up by superb, mellifluous guitar playing.
He follows that with ‘Not Gonna Lie’, kick-started by a juddering riff and chops of wah-wah rhythm guitar, matched by a forthright lyric about the importance of singing from the heart rather than mouthing clichés. It then segues straight into the loose-limbed ‘Too Young To Remember’, featuring funky, spartan rhythm guitar over a stuttering jazzy beat courtesy of drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, while Ingram delivers some easy, breezy soloing, and sings about being too young to have first-hand knowledge of old-fashioned juke joints, but still knowing blues history. Suggesting that “when you see me playing guitar, you’re looking back a hundred years” is a bit of a stretch though – if Charley Patton were to see the cover pic of Ingram playing a purple Strat, he’d think a Martian had landed.
There’s no arguing with the following ‘You’re Already Gone’ though, a piece of dreamy soul recognising that a still-official girlfriend is mentally out the door, throughout which Ingram scatters delicate, rippling and shimmering guitar licks. And while this may close a run of tracks that are real attention-grabbers, one way or another, there are several other tracks that aren’t far behind. ‘That’s All It Takes’ is a smile-inducing soul ballad with horn backing and its roots in Motown, and a couple of impeccable, fluid solos – simple enough, but beautifully done. And ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ is a genuine slow blues, with lazy piano in the background from Marty Sammon, and a bravura solo from young Christone, with changes of pace, twists and turns, and tension and release, sustaining interest with ease.
Ingram’s guitar rings like a bell on the mid-paced boogie of ‘That’s What You Do’, a contemplation of life on the road to which he adds another playful, darting and diving solo. Then ‘Something In The Dirt’ is a companion piece to ‘662’, a bit of old-fashioned fun with barrelhouse piano to the fore that’s also a meditation on the Delta roots of the blues.
For me, a couple of tracks should have been cut, particularly the uneasily arranged ‘She Calls Me Kingfish’, on which it seems like nobody is quite in the pocket. But that’s offset by the bonus track of ‘Rock & Roll’ which, far from being a rocker, is a haunting elegy for Ingram’s mother and her encouragement of his music – reflective and heartfelt, right down to the plaintive guitar solo.
662 isn’t perfect, but it does confirm that the Kingish is a special talent. The material is varied and for the most part top notch, embellished not only with startling guitar but with real-deal vocals too. Is he the next King of the Blues? Who can say? But Christone Ingram is sure to harvest more awards with this display.
662 is released by Alligator Records on 23 July.