Friday, October 20, 2023

Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram - Live In London

There are a couple of lazy phrases I come across from time to time that are guaranteed to get my goat:  “guitar prodigy”; and “future of the blues”.  Both these labels have been slapped on Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram in the past, but I’m pleased to say that on Live In London the Kingfish transcends such froth.  He simply does his thing, and does it very well indeed.
So what is his thing?  Well, a good example would be ‘Empty Promises’, a cover of a song by the late Michael Burks - a name new to me.  Ingram announces it with a piercing, near howling intro, but at heart it’s a soulful slow blues with a touch of Robert Cray about it.  It’s well-suited to Ingram’s warm, rich voice, which also has it own distinct character.  Then in due course he sets
Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram - The Spotlight Kid
Pic by Colin Hart
out on a squealing, scurrying solo, but full of changes of pace, moments of suspense, and handbrake turns in unexpected directions.
From moments like these the thought occurs that the Kingfish is, quite simply, a natural.  And really it's just confirmation of what he’s already displayed on ‘Fresh Out’, another slow blues about having bare shelves, both literally and metaphorically, after his baby done gone.  There’s nothing original about it, really, but the delivery is confident and sharp, with dizzying solos that duck and dive, show command of tension and release, and now and then drop down into playful quiet passages - a Kingfish trademark.
Funky blues is another Ingram sweet spot, as on the strutting and jiving ‘Hard Times’, which features an apt clavinet solo from Deshawn ‘D-Vibes’ Alexander to go with a swaggering effort from the main man.  ‘Not Gonna Lie’ is a brighter kinda animal, with twirling turnarounds and a sizzling wah-wah solo. And ‘Midnight Heat’ is perhaps cream of the funky crop, its deeper groove underlined by Paul Rogers bass and more clavinet from Alexander, while drummer Christopher Black gives his kit a good workout as they get well and truly syncopated on the bridge, and for good measure Ingram knocks out another guitar tale of the unexpected on his second solo.
He can also do the business on the less-is-more front too though, as evidenced by his solo acoustic turns on ‘Been Here Before’ and ‘Something In The Dirt’. The former is an old-style Delta blues affair that demonstrates the power of simplicity, and fits with the sentiments of a lyric about how his grandma thought Ingram had “been here before”.  ‘Something In The Dirt’ is a paean to his hometown of Clarksdale carrying echoes of ‘Key To The Highway’, in which he notes that “I played my first gig at a place called Red’s”.  A bit different, and perhaps even better, is the relaxed, rootsy and soulful ‘Listen’, on which Ingram’s simple acoustic strumming is augmented by washes and swirls of organ, culminating in a satisfying  B3 solo from Alexander.
The album’s not faultless, mind. Now and then Kingfish and co lapse into lounge bar jazziness, signalled right from the start with the limp piano on the intro to the opener ‘She Calls Me Kingfish’, and cropping up again on the likes of ‘Another Life Goes By’, and the maudlin ballad ‘Rock & Roll’.  There are also misguided fade-outs on ‘You’re Already Gone’ and ‘Not Gonna Lie’.  Fade-outs, on a live album?  I do not approve.  And while songs like ‘Fresh Out’ demonstrate that Ingram can hold the attention for nine minutes with ease, I’m not sure he needs the whole ten yards of the instrumental ‘Mississippi Night’ to get his point across, good as it is, while the lengthy intro to the encore of ‘Long Distance Woman’ is all a bit “meh”.
Much more to my taste are the set-closers ‘Outside Of This Town’ and ‘662’.  ‘Outside Of This Town’ sports a fuzzy, strutting riff as they get down and dirty over Black’s behind-the-beat swing, before Ingram whips up dollops of quicksilver soloing, punctuated by some typical toying quieter moments. And ‘662’ is an oomph-laden romp, a hip-wiggling shuffle that has sizzling Ingram guitar augmented by Alexander knocking out some honky tonk piano and gutsy organ, until a false ending lets them gather themselves for a surging victory lap.
Live In London crystallises what Christone Ingram has to offer, surpassing his two earlier studio albums.  Never mind all the hype - the Kingfish doesn't need it to grab the spotlight.
Live In London is out now on Alligator Records.

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