Kingdom Brothers – Signs Of The Times
Groove Ready Records
13 songs – 67 minutes
Kingdom Brothers hail from St. Louis, Missouri, and Signs Of The Times is their third release, having formed in 2005 and released Shine A Light in 2015 and Times Hard in 2016.
Comprising Chris Shepherd on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Stan Gill on keyboards and backing vocals, Ron Roskowske on lead, slide and rhythm guitars, Bob Walther on bass guitar and Rusty Parker on drums and percussion, Kingdom Brothers is a band packed with experience with several of the members having played for over 30 years. Mixing blues, rock, soul and R&B, there is a reassuring confidence and competence about these musicians that never dilutes the core emotion of the playing and the singing.
All of the musicians contribute songs to the album and there are also five well-known covers. The originals range from the opening minor key Robert Cray-esque “Make It Right” to the R&B ballad of “Taken Away”, the blues-rock of “Walkin’ In Love”, the upbeat shuffle of “St. Louie Bound” (with a fine Duane Allman-inspired slide guitar solo from Roskowske), the keyboard-driven “Heartbeat Away” and the closing guitar-driven instrumental, “South Broadway Boogaloo”. The blues-rock title track, written by Shepherd, floats on an irresistible groove and is the sort of thing Eric Clapton would have loved to have included on one of his late 1980s releases.
The choice of covers is interesting, with all of them being well-known to the average blues fan. “Oh, Pretty Woman” stays pretty close to Albert King’s original (if a little faster), with an excellent solo from Roskowske who briefly nods towards King’s over-bending single string style before imposing his own take on the song. By contrast, Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense (If You Can’t Make Peace)” is played at a much faster lick than the original, with the keyboards lending a soul vibe and the key change for the solo nodding towards the heavier guitar about to enter. Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” brings the wonderful guitar lick front and centre (perhaps a nod to Roy Buchanan’s classic cover?) and the soul/R&B vibe continues with Sam & Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”, which benefits from an almost gospel interpretation from Shepherd and a fine slide solo from Roskowske.
Shepherd is a fine, fine vocalist, imbuing each song with real intensity and commitment and he is given excellent support from all members of the band.
If one were looking for criticism, one might suggest that the choice of covers is over-cautious. In a live setting, audiences always love to hear songs they know, but does the world really need another version of “I’d Rather Go Blind”? Actually, perhaps surprisingly, the answer is “yes”. What starts out sounding like a relatively faithful cover of this old chestnut (with Joe Warmbrodt guesting on drums) finds new life both in Shepherd’s impassioned delivery and in his subtle variations in delivery, finding a vulnerable reverence in his protagonist’s proclamations.
With top notch production from Bob Walther and engineering by Chis Turnbaugh at Sawhorse Studios in St Louis, Signs Of The Times is an uplifting and positive release. Warmly recommended.