Albert King's masterpiece I'll Play The Blues for you was released in 1972; it was great then, receiving stellar reviews and yielding hit singles and it's still great 40 years later and that's really the point: very few of us in the market for this re-issue are hearing the album for the first time. We can air guitar to each of Albert's relentless stream of glorious licks, sway with the horn section, and stomp to the funk-laden rhythms because most of us already know these songs by heart. You don't need anyone to tell you it's good because you already know it's great.
That which is understood doesn't need to be explained but that doesn't mean we don't still have something to discuss and that we can't spend a little time reflecting on the magnitude of the greatness. There's also the matter of the album being expanded with four bonus tracks and the entire disc being remastered.
I don't have an arsenal of high end audio equipment nor do I have charts and graphs to point out the strengths or weaknesses in the intial pressing of the CD versus those in Joe Tarantino's remastered edition so we'll have to rely on my ears. Tarantino injects life, brightness, and definition to IPTBFY and I like the result. This is a groove-heavy album with a lot of action in the rhythm section comprised of The Bar-Kays and The Movement (the latter being the late Issac Hayes backing band, as explained in greater detail by the great music historian Bill Dahl) and you hear and feel that in this remaster. The classic sound of The Memphis Horns should shine and they do here without being too bright. Some listeners may find it a bit bright or bottom heavy but taken as a whole, Albert King is still the central force and you can hear the immense talents supporting him on the record.
The bonus tracks include alternate versions of the titular "I'll Play The Blues For You" and "Don't Burn Down The Bridge." Alternate versions can be tricky things on these re-issues. Sometimes you get drastically different reworkings of a song while other times you get a version where the only discernable difference is the word "Alternate." If you've loved this record for any length of time, you'll hear differences between the classic version and these alternates. They're noticeable without being drastic and provide another way to experience the joy of listening to Albert King's immense talent married to great songs.
"I Need A Love" and "Albert's Stomp" are newly unearthed and they are both wonderful. It's hard to imagine why "I Need A Love" didn't make the album in the first place. King's lead guitar and vocal are fantastic as always, augmented by great horn arrangements and great organ work. The only drawback to the instrumental "Stomp" is that it's over in two minutes, just as the organ is heating up beneath King's forceful leads. It's still a great listen, even if it ends too soon.
You can't improve upon perfection but the Stax Remaster of Albert King's landmark I'll Play The Blues For You nearly accomplishes the rhetorically impossible. It was essential listening from the moment it was released and now it sounds better than ever with a little something extra to love. Don't hesitate: out with the old, in with the new; great just got greater.