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CD REVIEW -- Kingfish
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Alligator Records


By Rex Bartholomew

Every year, a few young bluesmen come onto the scene, bringing massive soul and great guitar chops. These artists lay down solid albums that are released to glowing reviews, and everybody loves them. But by the time the next year rolls around nobody seems to be talking about them anymore. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is not one of those poor souls, as all he has in common with them is an abundance of talent and his age, and he is not afraid to work to make things happen.

Kingfish is barely 20 years old but is a quick study and is not exactly new to the blues world. He has been on the scene since he got his first guitar at the age of 11, and not long after he backed up Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry (who also gave Ingram his nickname). This young man grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is a fine place to learn the Delta Blues, and by the middle of this decade he had performed at the White House and had earned the 2015 Rising Star Award from The Rhythm & Blues Foundation.

Besides having a solid musical background, Kingfish has been smart enough to make the right connections in the music world so he can spread his blues message. Bootsy Collins and The Game have been sharing his videos on social media, and he has appeared on talk shows as well as having the opportunity to perform on the Netflix series, Luke Cage. Since graduating from high school, he has been on the road performing at festivals and sharing the stage with blues royalty.

All of this brings us up to Ingram’s debut album, Kingfish, which has been released under the storied Alligator Records label; yet another indication that this fellow is something special! This 52-minute disc was produced by two-time Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, and most of the content was cut at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Kingfish took on the lead vocals and guitar for this project, and he was joined on most of the tracks by Hambridge on drums, Tommy MacDonald on bass, Marty Sammon (from Buddy Guy’s band) on keyboards, and Rob McNelley on guitar. If you are familiar with Christone, you know he has done some killer covers in the past, but on this record all 12 tracks are originals, with most of them being written by him and Hambridge.

One last piece of this story is the amazing album this crew put together, and the fine guest artists who showed up to help him along his path. The opener is “Outside of This Town,” a hard-edged blues-rock song about the restless soul of a man who can no longer sit still. This is followed up with “Fresh Out” which features blues royalty in the form of Buddy Guy on guitar and vocals and Keb’ Mo’ on guitar. They join the band in this slow Chicago blues grind, with Kingfish taking the first shot at the lead guitar and vocals. His clean and powerful style is a cool contrast to Buddy’s grittier vocals and overdriven guitar that follow.

Chicago blues is also well represented by the supreme harp of Billy Branch on “If You Love Me,” which features Keb’ Mo’ on guitar and Chris Black behind the drum kit. This upbeat boogie has wonderful interplay between Branch and Mo’ and Black hits the snare like an axe cutting down a tree. After he spends four minutes singing about how he wants his lady to say she loves him, in the very next tune Ingram opines that “Love Ain’t My Favorite Word” – he is one fickle cat! This twist works well as this slow grind is a song of loss and sorrow, this time with the addition of some Hammond B3 from Marty Sammon. This track has a fabulous array of killer lead guitar licks, and Kingfish’s tone is to die for!

Halfway through the album, genres start to blend as “Listen” blurs the line between R&B and country, with Ingram adopting a smoother lyrical style. The guitar sounds are also progressive on this upbeat song, with a lot more effects on the leads and Keb’ pitching in on an acoustic. “Believe These Blues” is definitely blues, but it has a fresh feel with its lyrics about the troubles of today and the song’s slick and modern sound.

It is always tempting to call out a few of the standout tracks in an album review, but that is not going to happen today because all of the tracks on Kingfish are excellent. Ingram ends the album as strongly as he starts it with a pair of fine tunes. “Hard Times” represents the origins of the blues, a lovely Delta song with Kingfish on vocals and Keb’ Mo’ on resonator guitar. And the closer, “That’s Fine By Me,” almost ventures into the Jazz world, thanks to some killer piano from Marty Sammon. But it’s still the blues.

Kingfish’s eponymous debut album has everything a good blues album should have, and on top of this it does not sound like anything else out there. As Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer said, “He’s creating new music that feels like the blues but doesn’t copy what’s already been done.” You should definitely give his new record a listen. Head over to his website at (see links below) to hear some samples, learn more about this fine young man, and to find out where you can see his live show. Christone has scheduled dozens of shows all over the United States before the end of the year, so chances are good you will not have to travel far to find him!


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