Chris Thomas King is a name familiar to many people, largely through his
appearance as Tommy Johnson in the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou." In a
belated effort to capitalise on this popularity, Hightone have released "A
Young Man's Blues," a compilation of CTK's two albums for Sire/Hightone:
"Cry Of The People" (1990) and "Simple" (1993). Both were critically
acclaimed, although the latter was released despite objections by CTK. The
album is boosted by the inclusion of "The Devil's Daughter" for the first
time on CD.
The album opens with the first of seven tracks from 1993's "Simple" album
(recorded in 1991). "The Game" sees CTK in acoustic mode--the most obvious
comparison is Keb Mo' whose first album came out the following year--and
sounding in good voice. It is one of many tracks that acknowledge CTK's
blues roots. He is not afraid to incorporate more contemporary influences
too, although none of his hip-hop influenced work appears here, even though
it was part of his vision for "Simple."
The second track, "Wanna Die With a Smile On My Face" is the first of three
from "Cry of the Prophets." This shows the more rock-oriented side of CTK,
although he keeps things firmly within the blues genre with some tastefully
restrained guitar playing. The style is maintained by "Plaquemine Blues"
(from "Simple")--note that "Plaquemine Blues" and "Help Us, Somebody" are
listed in the wrong order--before the other two tracks from "Cry of the
Prophets" move things into in a quieter vein. "Help Us, Somebody" hints at
the mellower side of Hendrix, whilst "I'm Gonna Make It" is more of a
ballad. The latter is underpinned by Juan Magee's piano and organ, and
shows off the more soulful side of CTK's singing.
CTK has the knack of being able to write catchy tunes when the need arises.
The hook line of "Simple," for example, with its funky guitar lick on the
chorus is hard to shake off. There are a few more changes of tempo and
style, from the rock-blues of "Itch"--anyone remember Free?--through the
lighter touch of "The Devil's Daughter" and the much heavier "Blood On The
Dagger" before the album closes out in a lighter vein with "Valley Of Dreams."
Although CTK has moved on in the intervening decade, what shines through
from "A Young Man's Blues" are his ability to write good songs, sing, and
lay down some tasty guitar. Time has marched on, though, so if you want to
hear CTK in something closer to his "O Brother..." work, or his vision for
the future of the blues, you need to check out his more recent work. CTK
completists, however, may want "A Young Man's Blues" for the first ever CD
release of "The Devil's Daughter."
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This review is copyright © 2003 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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