9 tracks / 31:34
There is nothing like a little mystery to keep things interesting, and everything about Solomon King is intriguing. He is cagey about his birth name and his personal history, but we know that he grew up around Detroit. As he passed through a number of bands, he took the logical route in Motown and became an autoworker for his day job. After the usual rounds of layoffs during the industry downturn of the 1970s he packed his guitar and left town, heading for a rosier future and the much better weather of Los Angeles.
In the City of Angels he continued to pursue his musical dreams, and in the mid-2000s he threw himself wholeheartedly into the blues, playing jams and working with artists who helped him hone his craft. In 2008 he adopted the Salomon King moniker, in honor of his Jewish heritage and as a shout out to all of the legendary bluesmen that used the King surname. That year he released his first album, Under the Sun, which was produced by Motown heavyweight Sylvester Rivers (Diana Ross, the Jacksons, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations…). This release was a home run that was nominated for a Grammy and had two of its songs used in the first season of the HBO’s series True Blood. Over the next few years he gigged like crazy, cut another album, and starred as Phil Spector in an independent film. Wow!
Train is King’s third album, and it is made up of nine original tracks that he had been playing in his live show for over a year. He did not mess with a good thing, and chose to use his gigging band in the studio. Solomon took care of the vocals and guitars, and was joined by Johann Frank on guitars, Steven Marshall behind the drum kit, Buddy Pierson on the Hammond B3, and Princeton Arnold on bass and backing vocals. He also tapped the talents of harp men Jimmy Powers and Glenn Doll, as well as backing vocals from Maxayn Lewis, Connie Jackson, Gaby Teran and Jorge Costa. King wrote all of the songs, and Jorge Costa produced, engineered and mixed this CD.
It is apparent that King is not trying to copy any of the artists that came before him, and this album has a unique and modern blues rock sound. This evident from the first track, “Baby Does Me Good,” which has a cool blend of slide guitar, thumping bass and sweet vocal harmonies over a Bo Diddley beat. King’s voice is a clear tenor on this song, but do not get used to this as his vocals sound different on every track.
After taking his voice down an octave for the blues rocker “Bad to Me,” Solomon approaches the baritone zone for the sexy “Coffee Song.” He is no Barry White (and who is?) but his inflections make the listener wonder where the double-entendres end and reality begins. This mellow tune features saucy backing vocals and tasteful harp work, making it a favorite from the album.
This is backed up by another standout track, “SLO Blues.” This one is set against a background of the super-tight pocket of Marshall and Arnold, with Pierson setting the mood with his rich work on the Hammond. King makes his voice a bit grittier for this blues ballad, and there are plenty of guitar fills as well as a heartfelt solo just past the two minute mark.
Solomon threw in a catchy country song midway through with the clever title, “Country Song.” He pokes fun at the usual stereotypes and clichés that can be found in the genre, and his wit shines through. As he says, these are “them songs you don’t forget,” and proves himself right by penning a catchy song that is easy to get stuck in the head.
The title track is the most out there song of the set, and “Train” has a gnarly driving drum beat with layers of out-of-phase and clean guitars, and lyrics that are sort of a combination of Tom Petty and Lou Reed. After this the album tapers off with the final song, “Blue Angel,” a pretty almost-country ballad that starts off with simple guitar and keyboard accompaniment. It builds with the addition of bass, drums and soft background vocals, allowing things to end on a positive note.
If there is anything to gripe about with Train, it would be that it is not very long. Most of the songs clock in at around three minutes, and the whole album only lasts 32 minutes. For the money it would be nice to get a few more tracks, or to expand a bit on the ones that were included. But, if this is all he had ready to go, it is better that he did not pollute nine very good songs with material that was not ready for prime time.
If that is the only thing to complain about, Solomon King did a fabulous job with Train. His songwriting and musicianship are certainly top-notch, and this ends up being an interesting album with a fresh sound. We can only hope that he sticks to his guns and keeps innovating, because the future of blues relies on souls such as him.