Innovation in the blues milieu can be tough: Old-skool fans like old-skool sounds and themes, and if you change it up too much, they get a little uncomfortable. Like if you pass a Winston off to an old-guard Pall Mall smoker. Just ain’t cool.
Yet if you play the same old stuff and don’t add your own interesting spin to, say, the Muddy Waters style songs, it just sounds tired or worse yet, faker than fake.
Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King strike the perfect balance: Kubek is a hard-line Stevie Ray-style screaming guitarist. He’s the real deal, not some cardboard-cutout wannabe pretty boy the major labels like to prop up every couple yearsÁ¢€”and bilk the next generation of record buyers out of their paper route money. His bandmate and singer-guitarist Bnois King, however, brings a smoother jazz side to contrast Kubek’s rough-and-tumble Texas git-ar. Together they make searing blues with sophisticated style.
Best part about them is King’s lyrical commentary on present-day life. You’d never have caught Willa Mae “Big Mama” Thornton singing about road rage (even though she was the driver for her band and legend has it she could get up a good head of steam in the road-rage department) back in simpler times, when it hadn’t been defined as a social phenomenon.
But King does. “Damn Traffic” from Take Your Best Shot is one of my favorite cuts Kubek and King have done in their nearly 20-year run. In its quick blues-verse poetry the song encapsulates the traffic jam — with Kubek’s slashing guitar as a backdrop, the lyrics capture the grind of commuter life. And that’s how they put a current spin on the blues.
The duo have a new album, Blood Brothers, out on Alligator that’s well worth investigating. Here’s a little shot of Kubek and King live from earlier this year, performing “Blues Feeling”:
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