Sunday, March 31, 2024

Ten Top Tracks from . . . King King

Welcome back my friends, for the third instalment of Ten Top Tracks, surveying the repertoire of an artist favoured by Blues Enthused, but without any of that ranking nonsense - and bearing in mind that tomorrow I might choose several different tunes!
This time around I’m featuring British blues-rock stalwarts King King, and once again following a roughly chronological path.  Keep your eyes peeled for the links to the tracks on YouTube (or follow the link to a playlist of all ten tracks at the bottom), and when you’re sitting comfortably we’ll begin – not at the beginning, but with something from the band’s second album, Standing In The Shadows.
King King react to being told it's their round
Pic by Graham Milne

The first time I ever heard anything by King King was on a covermount CD that came with the (now defunct) Blues Magazine, offering a selection of the ‘Best of 2013’. I may already have encountered them via an advert in said magazine, featuring a picture of a burly guy giving a guitar some wallop while apparently spraying sweat in umpteen directions – and wearing a kilt. Being a Scot, I was intrigued, even though it’s scarcely our everyday attire.
Actually hearing King King for the first time though, playing ‘A Long History Of Love’, was something else. Up above I tagged them as blues-rock, but this was more blues-soul.  It’s patient and subdued, with gentle strokes of organ and subtle guitar chords, and reflective, emotional lyrics that main man Alan Nimmo delivers like a man who’s spent a whole lot of time listening to Paul Rodgers.  They rouse themselves a bit, then take a breather before Nimmo sets out on a lengthy, spell-binding guitar solo that spins new ideas and directions out of the melody, perfectly weighted and with exquisite use of sustain.  It was a real “Holy Shit!” moment.
When I then got a hold of the album Standing In The Shadows, I discovered that maybe six of the album's ten tracks were in this slow-to-mid tempo soulful vein - a bold thing to do, it seemed to me.  But it worked like a charm, so to underline the impact it had on these ears, here's another of those tracks, 'Taken What's Mine', which rolls along on a hypnotically steady beat, with long restrained organ chords and a subdued guitar figure as the backing for Alan Nimmo's sensitive vocal, plus another guitar solo that's full of feeling, perfectly fitted to the song.
Turning back to the band's debut album Take My Hand then, many long-time fans might expect me to pick the Eric Clapton/Robert Cray cover ‘Old Love’, another soulful epic that was a cornerstone of the King King live show for years.  But no, I’m going for something that justifies the “rock” aspect of
Alan Nimmo - an introspective kind of chap
Pic by Adrian Hextall
the blues-rock label, with ‘Broken Heal’.  Bennett Holland may bring some swing with injections of organ, but it’s the gritty riff and big tense guitar chords that set the real tone, while Alan Nimmo barks out an urgent vocal about a young woman’s street-walking, drug-dependent existence. Oh yeah, and he digs out not one but two scything wah-wah solos, a bit reminiscent of Lizzy’s Brian Robertson, to reinforce the mood.
Both of the above facets of King King continue to be evident on third album Reaching For The Light, with soulfulness on the likes of ‘Lay With Me’, and hard rocking on opening track ‘Hurricane’.  But they also explore a different kind of epic mode on ‘Rush Hour’.  It opens with twinkling guitar and a contemplative vocal from Nimmo in which an introspective sense of being swamped by the busy-ness of everyday life is more arresting than the “You believe in me” emotional rescue provided by a partner.  But it’s also gripping because of the dynamics, as it’s punctuated by pounding drums, surging organ from new boy Bob Fridzema, and charged-up guitar from Nimmo.  A stinging guitar solo releases some pressure, allowing it to ease off again, but soon enough the tense power returns, with a forceful grunt of “Huh!” from Nimmo heralding a climactic section that discharges the batteries fully.
But they also take that epic sensibility, that tension between sensitivity and power, and apply it to a quintessential blues-rock number in ‘Stranger To Love’, which doesn’t half channel Bad Company, with quiet sections giving way to Wayne Proctor whipping up a storm on drums, Fridzema leaning hard into his Hammond organ, and Nimmo letting loose some howling guitar.  The end result was something ripe to be turned into a tour de force in their live set - and it duly was.
It's something of a surprise that to date King King have only released five studio albums.  But that handful is bolstered by a barnstorming live album on which ‘Stranger To Love’ wasn’t the only song deserving of that tour de force label.  King King Live, released back in 2016, also includes an extended version of ‘A Long History Of Love’ that somehow manages to transcend the original, while ‘Rush Hour’ is also given fresh energy and is the focus for an exuberant singalong.  But ‘You’ll Stop The Rain’ undergoes one of the most ear-catching transformations. Already a corker of a track on Reaching For The Light, the song that Alan Nimmo wrote about his brother Stevie suffering cancer becomes a searing, impassioned classic here, peaking with an explosive Nimmo guitar solo.
But another King King quality that’s punched home on . . . Live is less to do with drama and more to do with getting your butt moving.  To wit, the boys could get funky!  Not that this was a revelation, but it’s brilliantly captured here.  Early on they roll out a cover of the Fabulous Thunderbirds ‘Wait On Time’ that’s irresistibly swinging R’n’B.  Then towards the end they retrieve ‘All Your Life’ from their first album, and spend ten minutes getting seriously groovy, with Hammond organ wrangler Bob Fridzema being “turned loose on ya”, as Alan Nimmo puts it, to pump up the hip-shake quotient.
The live album turned out to be the high point for the line-up of Nimmo, Proctor, Fridzema, and bassist Lindsay Coulson. Their following studio album Exile & Grace didn’t quite have the consistency to match the career-spanning . . . Live, and the band were prevented from touring it
The live and dangerous Nimmo brothers
immediately on release – and perhaps bringing the material properly to life – by Alan Nimmo suffering vocal problems that required an operation and prolonged rest.  But there are still numerous bright spots on E&G, especially when they’re cranking it out in a blues-rock vein.  The opening ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ is bright and box-fresh, serving up the wonderful tongue-in-cheek line “Stone cold devil woman foolin’ around” and a delicious key change.  But my pick for this piece is ‘Long Time Running’ – a Whitesnake-ish good time rocker with gutsy guitar chords, jangling piano from Fridzema in addition to waves of organ, and a gotta-join-in hook of a chorus.
Which brings us to the most recent King King album, Maverick, featuring a new line-up with 
Zander Greenshields on bass and Andrew Scott on drums. And just as I thought the slow tempo soulful blues emphasis of Standing In The Shadows was a bold move, they set another brave course on a couple of tracks here.  ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’ may be a blues-tinged power ballad, but ‘By Your Side’ and ‘When My Winter Comes’ are piano-led, less bluesy, and more subtle.  ‘By Your Side’ features a passionate, piercing guitar solo, but my pick from the pair is the stunningly unadorned ‘When My Winter Comes’.  Originally written for a proposed film, it relies on just Jonny Dyke’s piano, Alan Nimmo’s lead vocal – and some sumptuous harmonies thanks to a cameo appearance from brother Stevie, who joined the band after the album’s release.
In these songs there’s something of a tilt away from a blues focus to a broader melodic rock style. It’s not a definitive shift, but it’s discernible in other tracks on Maverick.  For my last selection though, I’m going with the opening track, ‘Never Give In’, a tough and gritty blast of blues-rock that confirms the blues is still in the KK boys’ DNA – though perhaps a bit more glossy than in the past.  It’s an apt note to close on lyrically too, because King King have had to be resilient in the face of a few vicissitudes down the years, from Alan Nimmo’s vocal issues, to regrouping around new line-ups, and management changes.
It's now over three years since Maverick was released.  Surely the time has come for King King to bring us their next musical chapter, and deliver a rocking new album!

You can find a YouTube playlist of all ten tracks here.

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