King Solomon Hicks – Harlem
Provogue – 2020
11 tracks; 39 minutes
King Solomon Hicks is a young New York guitarist who started playing at The Cotton Club in Harlem aged 13. He has played at all the blues clubs in the New York area, including The Iridium and Terra Blues, as well as traveling to Europe and being a judge at the IBCs in Memphis. This is his first major label release, produced by Kirk Yano who has produced albums by Mariah Carey and Miles Davis in the past. Solomon plays guitar and sings, mainly in quartet mode: Neal Evans and Tommy Mandel play keys, Eric Krasno plays guitar on three tracks, Kirk Yano is on bass and drum duties are shared between Mike Rodband, Jeff Simon, Donald Kruger, Neal Evans, Alan Evans and former Foghat and Savoy Brown drummer Roger Earl who guests on one track; percussionists Javier Alonso and Altor Corral contribute to six tracks, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and cellist Calum Ingram are on one cut each and backing vocals are by the two percussionists, Frank Amato and Lincoln Schofield. Solomon and Kirk wrote two instrumentals, two songs come from Frankie Vinci (Aerosmith, Tim McGraw, Alice Cooper) and there are seven covers.
The album opens with Leon Russell’s “I’d Rather Be Blind” which Freddie King recorded on Texas Cannonball in 1972 and has subsequently been covered by Curtis Salgado, Bernard Allison and John Mayall amongst others. Solomon does a soulful take with good, clear vocals and neat, restrained guitar, a good start to the album. “Every Day I Sing The Blues” is a slightly misnamed version of the old warhorse that has been recorded by lots of folk but is always associated with BB King. Solomon’s version is a bit heavier with pounding piano and the use of Cream’s “Crossroads” riff before he gives us some very expressive guitar on “What The Devil Loves”, a song by Nashville songwriter Fred Koller and Tom Bishop.
The first original is a rousing instrumental shuffle entitled “421 South Main” which has some excellent guitar exchanges between Solomon and Eric. “I Love You More Than You Ever Know” was written by Al Kooper for the very first Blood Sweat & Tears album Child Is Father To The Man. It has been covered many times but Solomon finds a slightly different approach with gentle latin percussion though the cello and keys combination makes the overall feel rather bland. In sharp contrast Frankie Vinci’s “Headed Back To Memphis” rocks along at pace and is one of the heavier tracks on the album.
Solomon shows us another side to his playing with some funky wah-wah on another instrumental, Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” which also features some good sax work. Frankie Vinci’s gospel-infused “Have Mercy” rockets along at great speed before the second of Solomon and Kirk’s instrumentals, “Riverside Drive”, a trio performance in blues-rock style. “It’s Alright” has minimal, repetitive lyrics and some guitar effects out of the heavy rock guidebook although it appears to be the song written by UK/German songwriter Chris Andrews and recorded by English rock and roller Adam Faith back in 1964. The slowed down version of “Help Me” that closes the album has some strong blues guitar playing from Solomon and works well, making a very different impression to the usual covers of the Willie Dixon/Sonny Boy Williamson tune – not a harmonica in earshot!
The tracks here are mainly short and concise and there is no over-playing or shredding anywhere, so Solomon shows that he is very much in the blues tradition whilst demonstrating that he is open to a range of styles, making this an album that should appeal to a broad audience.