IN ELECTRIC BLUES, the guitar is King, as in B.B. However, as King approaches his 35th year on the charts, he's facing some stiff competition for airplay from veterans and newcomers alike. Here's a sampling of some new releases.
ALBERT COLLINS/ROBERT CRAY/JOHNNY COPELAND -- "Showdown!" (Alligator AL 4743-A). From the opening track, "T-Bone Shuffle," it's obvious that young Cray is equal to the task of playing alongside guitar greats Collins and Copeland. It's also obvious that the studio session is more a meeting of minds than a mindless competition. Collins is instantly recognizable. His hot, piercing guitar tone provides a striking contrast to Copeland's husky voice on "Lion's Den," and ultimately brings the album to a fiery close with "Black Jack." Copeland's guitar has been heard to better advantage in more of a jazz context, but his vocals are as compelling as ever, especially on the laconic "Bring Your Fine Self Home." As for Cray, besides holding his own on guitar, he contributes one of his finest and hauntingly memorable songs to the album, "The Dream."
B.B. KING -- "Six Silver Strings" (MCA5616). This being King's 50th album, you'd think veteran blues producer David Crawford would come up with something more special than this collection of hits and mostly misses. Oddly enough, the best tracks were originally featured in the John Landis film, "Into the Night" (including the title tune), and were produced by Landis and songwriter Ira Newborn. Except for a couple of tracks like "My Guitar Sings the Blues," what remains is King's typically eloquent guitar punctuating forgettable lyrics, and the uninspired work of an anonymous rhythm section.
JOHNNY WINTER -- "Serious Business" (Alligator AL4772). Since moving over to Alligator Records, Winter sounds like himself again, totally immersed in the blues. On this album he's pared the music down to the essentials (hence the title), put together a tight band, leaning on Jon Paris' blues harp for additional color. If the album doesn't always pack the wallop of some of Winter's early Columbia recordings, it's far and away more consistent. Highlights: "Unseen Eye" and "Give It Back."
BIG DADDY KINSEY & THE KINSEY REPORT -- "Bad Situation"(Rooster R2620). A contender for blues sleeper of the year, this is essentially a family affair featuring father Lester "Big Daddy" Kinsey and his three sons, Donald, Ralph and Kenneth, in a thoroughly relaxed and amiable setting. Though Big Daddy "dedicates one song to Muddy Waters," his smokey voice could easily be mistaken for Albert King's at times, and Donald's guitar style bears a similar resemblance to King's pungent tone. While not all the songs are worthy of the group, the added pleasure of hearing pianist Pinetop Perkins perform compensates for the lapses.
LUTHER "GUITAR JUNIOR" JOHNSON -- "Doin' the Sugar Too" (Rooster 7607). So many fine guitarists passed through Muddy Waters' Band over the years that it's not surprising to find that Johnson's gifts are not widely appreciated. With a little airplay and luck, this album should remedy that situation. Not only does it contain some of Johnson's best guitar work, it finds him working with a top-notch band (occasionally bolstered by the Roomful of Blues horn section) and singing a well-considered blend of standards and originals.