Albert King is being posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year -- no doubt more because of his influence on generations of rock guitarists than for his brilliant blues oeuvre -- and Stax has re-issued his signature record Born Under A Bad Sign prior to the ceremony.
This is the second of King's albums included in the massive re-issue campaign by the famed Memphis label. They did a magnificent job on the expanded edition of I'll Play The Blues For You and have done an equally masterful job on this, the most important record of his legendary career.
Born Under A Bad Sign is not only an essential piece of blues history, it is one of the most important records of the '60s and that decade saw a few good records released during its span. The English language doesn't permit us to modify "unique" (which doesn't stop far too many speakers and writers) and something can't be more essential than essential. I hope grammarians won't take issue with my contention that a masterpiece has been elevated and eclipsed its own high standards because that is exactly what happens here.
This re-issue boasts five bonus tracks and an essay from historian Bill Dahl, who takes on the unenviable task of finding something to say that hasn't been said before about an album that has stood the test of time. He says most of what I'd like to say better than I can but it's called plagiarism to paste his essay in here so I'll try this on my own.
The 12-songs that comprise Born weren't all cut for inclusion on an album the way we've come to understand the artform. Some of these were released as singles later pieced together but it's now difficult to imagine these songs unrelated and separate.
These performances are all spectacular with King at the top of his regal form. He was backed by Booker T and his MGs on many of these songs, giving him musicians equal to the challenge of matching his high standards. He also got to tear into some juicy material, songs many have cut before and since but few have equalled the brilliance on display.
The album has been remastered and in a refreshing change it was done with a light touch; these songs still sound like they were cut on analog equipment in 1960s Memphis rather being assaulted, compressed, and digitized to death. The warmth and immediacy shines through on the 12 songs we know by heart as well as the unearthed bonus tracks.
Four of the bonus cuts are alternate versions of songs already on the album. Hardcore fans and blues students will enjoy obsessing over these, contrasting them with the now-famous versions they've committed to memory. The fifth track is an untitled instrumental cut during the Born timeframe. This is the best of the new bunch as it allows us to hear King blaze over a fantastic groove created by the MGs.
Everyone should already own Born Under A Bad Sign and if you don't, this is the perfect time to rectify your oversight by purchasing this remaster. Those with taste and style already have a version in their collection and you, too, should go ahead and spring for this version. The alternate versions are enjoyable, the untitled instrumental phenomenal, and the remastered sound excellent. Those are all reason enough to replace your current copy with this one but maybe the best reason is to experience the joy of buying and hearing this for the "first time" all over again.