The Hoodoo Kings,
The Hoodoo Kings
(Telarc, 2001)

The inside cover of the Hoodoo Kings' slipcover has a narrative that begins ages ago and tells of a prophecy about three kings from the Louisiana bayou area. These three kings (guess who) would "come to shape the sounds that would become the benchmark of music we know as the blues." Yup, they actually printed that. Obviously, the Hoodoo Kings are trying too hard; unfortunately, most of the tunes on this album follow suit. Instead of simply sittin' back and playin', there's just too much effort. They try to infuse different elements into the structure of each song.

These songs don't need structure; they need freedom to flow. For example, the first track is a bland cover of "I Fought the Law." While the zydeco influence tries to energize this version from the get-go, the pace of the song becomes monotonous. The second track, "Stumble and Fall," is aptly titled. The song starts out with a beat severely in need of a pacemaker. Then, suddenly, it abruptly jumps to a fast pace that uses the same three chords over and over and over. It's like running on a very short indoor track. And that's a pity, because the lyrics are pretty good until the commentary begins.

The use of commentary either before or during a song has become an overused device for musicians, specifically blues singers. I'm not sure if it's meant to add a "live" sound or just to keep your attention. While it works for singers like R.L. Burnside, it's become old hat and should be used sparingly. The song "Luberta" also has a brief commentary that really doesn't create a setup or introduce the song. It comes across as a throw-in to give it an improvised feeling.

While most of the album is mediocre, there are a few songs that stand out above the rest. One song, "I Need Your Love So Bad," has such a free flow to it that is lacking in so many songs on this album. The Hoodoo Kings just cut loose and play in a laid-back manner suited to the blues. The vocals and the drums make you want to sway along with the beat. The harmonica solo in the middle is a sweet filling in this tasty pastry of a song. "Big Chief" is another jewel infused with a New Orleans funk piano medley. There is also a jammin' guitar solo that keeps the funk going. Also worth noting is "I've Been Mistreated" which -- oddly enough -- seems influenced by Credence Clearwater Revival, especially the guitar accompaniment.

The self-titled Hoodoo Kings album is a mediocre effort by a band that has potential. Most of the songs aren't necessarily bad but aren't outstanding either. Tracks like "Monkey Business" and "Mean and Evil Woman" are your basic blues-type of songs that would be enjoyable for those new to the blues but disappointing to blues aficionados. While usually an artist is commended for their effort, the Hoodoo Kings try too hard and do not rely on their inherent talent.

[ by C. Nathan Coyle ]

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