I’m not going to pretend to be a blues afficionado or anything, here; I’m no expert, and I’ll willingly admit that. I’ve read a few books, listened to some of the more key blues musicians down through the years, and that’s pretty much the extent of it, I’m afraid. So, I’ll grant you that I’m not as knowledgeable about the women of the blues as I should be. However, I do know a bit about Koko Taylor, enough to know that she’s the Queen of the Blues, and the only one worthy of the name since the days of Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton.
Naturally, Ms. Taylor knows it, too, and Royal Blue is a head-held-high celebration of her stellar 30-year career as a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene, full of star-power guests like B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Keb’ Mo’, and Johnnie Johnson. Koko’s voice is as fine as ever, still beautifully raspy and evocative, and it’s telling that during her duet with B.B. King on “Blues Hotel”, I couldn’t wait for B.B. to quit singing so Koko could get back in front of the microphone. Another telling point: well, it may be just my own personal tastes, but I liked Koko’s own songs on here better than most of the renditions of other people’s songs (and that’s saying something when she’s performing songs by people like Ray Charles). The lady’s tough and confident, willing to stand up for herself and do things the way she wants; heck, she looks positively regal in the album photos.
Royal Blue is Chicago blues, through-and-through—there’s one countryish traditional song on here, “The Man Next Door”, a beautiful, slow tune of Koko’s that features just her wonderful voice and the musical accompaniment (and singing) of Keb’ Mo’, but beyond that, this is definitely city blues, as gritty as the streets of Chicago. Most of the CD is fast, uptempo stuff, like the lead track, “Save Your Breath”, which is closer to flat-out rock than most blues I’ve heard, or her fiery reworking of Melissa Etheridge’s “Bring Me Some Water”. None of it’s downbeat or gloomy, instead staying danceable and, well, pretty darn fun.
Bottom line time: Koko Taylor’s still in her prime, possibly the last great tough, brassy blues woman alive, and I hope she keeps it up for many years to come.