Albert King: I'll Play the Blues for You

Albert King's blues classic is updated, with four new songs.

Albert King

I'll Play the Blues for You

Label: Concord Music Group
US Release Date: 2012-05-22

Cream made it popular, but bluesman Albert King originally recorded — though did not write — "Born Under a Bad Sign", and it is rightfully the song he's most often associated with. The blues classic was written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell, both of whom were essentially house musicians for Memphis-based soul label Stax Records. Although the Stax stable of artists was mostly soul musicians (notably Otis Redding), the label also took on funk (Isaac Hayes, the Memphis Horns) and the blues, King predominantly. Stax released the career-making Born Under a Bad Sign, on the same-titled album, in 1967. It was King’s first record with the label — but, despite its influence and the power of the single, not his best.

Start to finish, King’s finest album on Stax (and arguably finest, period) is 1972’s I’ll Play the Blues for You. It was released as King was still basking in the success he’d built from Born Under a Bad Sign, and it solidified his standing as one of the most unique of blues talents — one of the three “Kings of the blues”, along with B.B and Freddie. Now, Concord Music Group is re-releasing I’ll Play the Blues for You as part of its Stax Remasters series. Enhanced by Joe Tarantino’s 24-bit remastering, and the addition of four unreleased bonus tracks, the reissue underscores the album’s popularity and importance over the four-plus decades since its release.

Albert King (1923-1992) was not a powerful blues singer, even though he’d lived the life. But he was a singular electric blues guitarist. King was left-handed, but he played his now-famous (among blues lovers, that is) Gibson Flying V right-handed guitar flipped upside down, which made for an inimitable sound: He pulls down on strings instead of pushing up on them. Add to his guitar work the soul-funk infusion underlying the Stax backing sound and the result is, really, a different kind of blues, certainly for its day. Even now — especially now—the Albert King “Stax sound” is distinctive among blues musicians. It’s blues with a soul feeling.

I’ll Play the Blues for You represents a chance to rediscover, or hear for the first time, a distinctive bluesman. Thanks to Concord, King gets to shine anew on the remastered I’ll Play the Blues for You. His voice throughout is warm and casual, even chatty, and his guitar a stinging whip of high, bended notes that speak of all things blues — bad luck and trouble. In addition to the LP’s eight original tracks, I’ll Play the Blues for You includes four previously unreleased titles — two of which are alternate takes of songs in the main sequence, including the title track without the spoken interlude. The other two are fine, undiscovered additions to King’s body of work: "I Need a Love" and the funk-heavy "Albert’s Stomp".

King’s discography encompasses some 25 albums, and nearly all of them contain moments of fiery brilliance, owing to the unique way in which he played his iconic guitar. But it is King’s years with Stax that both define and differentiate him; the Stax sound made King something different for a bluesman, someone who transcended the typical blues sound and yet remained firmly grounded in its electric traditions.

I’ll Play the Blues for You represents the best of King’s Stax years, and is a vital re-release, even for casual fans.






Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.