september 2011

Jeff Golub: in honoring the Kings, he and his mates honor themselves (Photo: Jeff Golub Management)

Reigning Supreme

Jeff Golub, Henry Butler and company do right by the reign of Kings B.B., Freddie and Albert

The Jeff Golub Band featuring Henry Butler
Entertainment One Music

On his previous album, Blues for You, guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Golub broke away from the smooth jazz that has made him a household name in that world and dived into a harder-edged, classic urban blues sound. With his tribute to B.B., Freddie and Albert, The Three Kings, he completes a thoroughly successful artistic evolution. There’s nothing smooth or even very jazzy about this effort--Golub’s rich-toned six-string discourses howl, shriek, moan, cry, wail, plead and even, on the evocative “Freddie’s Midnight Dream,” sing sweet nothings but no one is going to mistake his formulations as anything but the blues. The formidable New Orleans piano master Henry Butler is part of these proceedings--a big and welcome part--and Golub’s buddies and fellow gifted axemen Robben Ford and Sonny Landreth make cameos as well. But in the end, appropriately enough for a project honoring three towering blues guitarists, Golub’s inspired, soulful playing carries the day as the best part of this exercise. Ford and Golub get into an energetic dialogue on Freddie King’s stomping instrumental “Side Tracked,” with Ford working the upper neck for all it’s worth, and in Golub’s own “In Plain Sight,” he and Landreth fashion fiery solo sorties in the styles of all three Kings in a spitfire workout further enlivened by Butler’s Crescent City-style piano romp up and down the right side of the keys.

Jeff Golub Band, ‘Help the Poor,’ from The Three Kings, featuring Jeff Golub Band drummer Josh Dion on lead vocal. The song was originally recorded in 1962 by B.B. King for his first ABC album, Mr. Blues, released in 1963.

As for the song selection, Golub proves an equal opportunity interpreter, with a slight nod to B.B., four of whose songs are covered. Golub speaks through his guitar, so he hands off the vocal duties to Butler and to his band’s drummer/percussionist Josh Dion. Both do a bang-up job, which will surprise no one who has heard Butler’s husky, Joe Turner-like growl on other recordings; less of a known quantity as a vocalist, Dion makes a powerful impression with his reedy cry of a voice, a virtue he employs to great effect on a rocking romp through B.B.’s “Everday I Have the Blues,” with Golub and Butler firing it up further with their sizzling guitar and piano incursions. Butler captures precisely the right flavor and feel in kicking things off with a joyous, mightily swinging take on “Let The Good Times Roll” in an arrangement modeled after B.B.’s classic one, with powerhouse horns, a shouting backup chorus and Golub’s spitfire guitar soloing enhancing the raucous affair’s charged atmosphere; he follows that with another bravura performance on a gripping version of Albert’s signature song, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” while leaving room for Golub to make his own statement as a sturdy horn section surges and retreats throughout the arrangement. Butler has that throaty, Albert-like cry in his muscular voice, and as effective as it is on “Born Under a Bad Sign,” his finest moment here is arguably with the deep, pain-wracked reading he gives “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” a performance so definitively and deeply blue that Golub has his work cut out for him in fashioning an emotional, searing solo of varying textures equal to Butler’s intensity. Not all of the Kings’ tunes are the most familiar, but the most surprising is the inclusion of the obscure B.B. tune, “Help The Poor,” written by Charles Singleton and included on B.B.’s first ABC album, Mr. Blues, released in 1963; in 2000 B.B. reprised the song on his album-length collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With the King. Not a social statement but rather a self-pitying plea for a woman’s love, “Help the Poor” is a midtempo grinder that Dion sings with impressive urgency and a certain abject desperation that builds as the song concludes with a flourish.

Jeff Golub Band, ‘Oh Pretty Woman,’ with lead vocal by Henry Butler, from The Three Kings. The original recording was featured on Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign album (1967)

Following a funky, New Orleans-flavored tribute to “The Three Kings,” in a Butler original that its writer puts over with engaging warmth, the album closes with a tasty, ruminative treatment of “The Thrill Is Gone” (inexplicably credited to B.B. as a songwriter, it was co-written and originally recorded in 1951 by B.B.’s Modern Records labelmate Roy Hawkins--his songwriting partner was Rick Darnell). Over an unobtrusive strings-and-synth backdrop, this completely instrumental version is fueled by Golub’s stinging lower-strings monologue and a terrific improvisational exploration of the melody’s possibilities in a trilling, rippling, glissando-rich solo of grand aspirations by Butler before Golub returns to bring it home with a low-key, deeply introspective solo. Two of the three Kings recognized here are gone, but the one remaining surely would be flattered by the level of musicianship and spirit Jeff Golub, Henry Butler and their mates bring to this music. It’s fair to say in doing right by these three giants of the blues, Golub and company have honored themselves as well.

Jeff Golub’s Three Kings is available at

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