14 songs – 59 minutes
Northern California-based Michael Barclay has been around for a long time, playing with Chuck Berry in the 1960s and jazz singer Randy Crawford in the 1970s. His new album (his fourth solo release), King of Hearts, is a self-produced 14 track collection of first class blues-rock songs.
The track listing is an enjoyable mix of classic covers and originals. The choice of covers may appear at first to be slightly uninspiring, including several songs that are played every night at every blues jam in every city in the world: “Everyday I Have The Blues”, “Someday After A While”, “Key To The Highway” and “Stormy Monday”, as well as The Beatles’ “Come Together”, Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” and a jazzy instrumental version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind”.
However, whilst some of the covers are played straight (“Key To The Highway” for example keeps pretty close to the Derek and the Dominoes version), others are given a fresh lick of paint. “Everyday I Have The Blues” is played as Texas-style guitar-heavy shuffle and “Stormy Monday” is given an organ-heavy, almost funky treatment. “Someday After A While” adds horns where Freddie King’s original featured more piano, resulting in a less gospel-sounding piece that still retains the essential threat underpinning the lyrics: “I may be blue, but I don’t mind. Because I know that way down the line, someday, babe, someday after a while you’ll be sorry.”
Barclay’s original songs display a mature lyrical tilt, for example in the funky blues of “Married Man,” in which he declares to an amorous fan: “I found your note on my car on my way home. And I’ve got to say, there’s something you really should know: my woman’s waiting there for me and I’ll never leave that girl alone. Because I’m a married man and my heart is really in my home.” Likewise, in “King of Hearts”, he looks back on his mis-spent youth with affection, but he is clearly happy with his current state of affairs: “I’ve always been the King of Hearts, the big Chief of some fine Creole. But then my baby came along and now she’s the Queen of my Soul. I thought I’d be the Prince of Thieves, and steal her heart away. But her body and her mind claimed me and I won’t ever play.”
King of Hearts is very much a labour of love for Barclay, who produced, arranged and mixed the album himself, in addition to programming the drums and organ/synths, singing lead vocals, and playing lead guitar, bass, electric piano, clavinet, organ and trumpet. He also wrote five of the songs himself and co-wrote one with tenor and alto sax player Roger Volz (the 70s-esque funk instrumental, “Fatass Funk”). Other musicians include Midge Gannon on background vocals, Joel Rudinow on acoustic piano; Jack Jacobsen and Lowell Levinger on organ; Blair Hardman and Evan Palmerston on bass; and Kendrick Freeman on drums.
To his credit, Barclay manages to create the feel of a full band playing live on each song, and he has an enjoyably assertive, full-bodied guitar style, that displays hints of the influence of Eric Clapton, B.B. and Freddie King in the note selection and warm, mid-range tone. He also turns in some fine, slashing slide guitar playing in the title track. His voice is less strong, struggling at times, especially on the slower, bluesier tracks. It also however displays a vulnerability at times which is genuinely affecting.
King Of Hearts doesn’t break any new musical ground, but is a solid and enjoyable blues-rock effort from Barclay. Particularly recommended for fans of the likes of Eric Clapton and Chris Antonik.