King Leo – Revival – Album Review
Had to realign and readjust my ears to accept this album the way it should be heard…that’s not on King Leo, that’s completely on me. Been a while now since I felt like I jumped into the authentic-world of Blues-music…just always seems to be a style of music that finds its way to my playlist more rarely than most – that’s also not on King Leo and is also on me…let’s face facts – it’s not as if the Blues just suddenly stopped being made! As a reviewer, I tend to be the victim of what comes my way quite often, as opposed to seeking something out on my own like an actual grown-ass man probably should be. With so many sounds, songs, artists, bands and music in the world…especially throughout the independent music-scene…if you’re not careful, you can miss some killer experiences in music just by blinking it seems, or simply trying to catch your eight hours of sleep!
But in truth, it comes from two places. One being that I’m constantly reviewing what’s happening out there in our current music-climate – and if our pages are any indication of what’s happening out there right now and I like to believe they are – Blues music has had its proportional representation, even with its scarce-appearances on our pages. Second reason being…while it’s often well-made and well-played – Blues-music is just about the last genre on earth looking to innovate its sound or evolve past its standards – and that is always something I’m looking for music to do. The core DNA make-up of the Blues keeps it with a timeless sound, unchanging and stoic throughout the years. The ability to rely on a sound that applies to roughly its entire genre…can be consistently comforting for some…whereas for others like myself always on the lookout for the new & exciting, it can often feel like moving in-place.
More importantly than anything though…is to keep in mind that good music, is exactly that – good music. Whether it’s inside of your taste, genre or personal-style – a good, well-played album or song should always be acknowledged…and I’ll admit with the drums rolling through the beginning of “Leave Me Behind” – you can feel the brightness and build-up of the opening to King Leo’s Revival become more exciting with each passing second. You’ve got the horns of what sounds like a trumpet/trombone combo happening, clever plucks of guitar strings and of course, King Leo himself ready to lend his vocals to the overall sound; he keeps it moving quickly and these elements snap together solidly and lock into their groove nearly immediately as the record starts to spin.
Heading right into the unity-inspired sounds of “It’ll Be All Right” where you’ll find King Leo questioning his surroundings and sources of information through the lyrics. A little more of a standard Blues-sound than the opening track gives us – but also some tremendously well-played turns on the harmonica and guitar-solos here in this second tune as well. Also a little lighter in the rhythm & groove of the music, and as far as King Leo’s vocals are concerned, you can hear the confidence growing. He carries that vocal-boldness into the following tune, “You Were Taught” which also pulses and moves with the standard Blues-inspired bass-lines – he’s clearly at home in the genre, comfortable and confident all at the same time. The chorus picks-up fantastically and you get some of the best of King Leo’s vocals here on “You Were Taught” along with an excellent saxophone-solo. Lyrically…it’s a pretty important song to make sure you’re hearing the message in…as far as I can tell, the writing reflects a belief we seem to both share – breaking free of convention to truly find your voice…and regardless of whatever “You Were Taught” – on the inside of us all, we know that’s right and what works for us…so express it!
As the sentimental-type myself, a track like “Heaven’s Right Here” appeals to me more than most tracks you’ll hear in the Blues. While the song, sound & style of course fit right into the genre…there’s no rainclouds here in the lyrical content…this is much more of an ode to beautiful intentions, memories and loved-ones. Good swinging relationship between the brass and the beat…for anyone that’s truly in love with their life, their family and content with their own happiness…you’ll get where King Leo is coming from here. Gorgeous tune and the saxophone solo found here on “Heaven’s Right Here” is one that truly lights this record up fantastically…it leads right into a brilliant guitar-solo as well…the musicianship in this track alone is worth the price of admission, let alone the wonderful lyrics that accompany it.
To me, I felt like one of the most surprising tracks on Revival was “Back It Off.” When I first heard it…I felt like this immediately was the kind of track I would normally rail against – but I kinda felt a little powerless in its groove! There’s a lot to listen to and work with here despite what sounds like the typical – you can’t help but love the brilliant execution here on “Back It Off.” The tones of the instruments in this song are supremely awesome…everything from the guitar sounds absolutely genius whether it’s the low-end rumble in the verse or the brightened, bending tones of the chorus. It sounds incredibly familiar, comfortable and inviting…but this is a perfect example of what I meant in the introduction referring to a good tune being exactly that…and I can’t deny that “Back It Off” is certainly one of those.
King Leo himself has spent time with some of the greats and learned from some of the best including the son of Muddy Waters himself in Big Bill Morganfield’s Band in addition to sharing stages with the master, Bo Diddley. I’d wager a bet you can hear these influences come through shining at their brightest on a track like “Prisoner” – a track so steeped in the traditional Blues sound you’d swear that the title is referencing how ‘locked-in’ to its sound & style it truly is. The walking bass-line, the immaculately played guitar-work…the sorrowful vocals…it’s all here in this masterstroke of true-Blues. Again, another song/sound I’d feel like normally I’d be feeling that pinch of wanting a little more of an update on were it not for the incredible musicianship, composition and overall execution. As it stands, “Prisoner” gets a stay of execution from me…brilliant song and it really marks a solid turning-point in the middle of Revival where the record starts to show off some of its very best.
Take “Got To Have It” for example…where the King brings in a Queen to assist him with the vocals in a beautiful duet. Excellent sound shared between them and in their harmonies together. A smart song whereby nothing becomes too complex – “Got To Have It” relies on its gentle melody and warm, inviting sound. The female lead sounds fantastic and really complements the tones of King Leo’s voice perfectly…the kind of combination that works so well together you’ll begin to wonder what kept the King from taking his Queen along with him into more of the songs on this record. Every so often, she’ll break-out from the background to really light-up the atmosphere on “Got To Have It” and you can instantly tell what a powerhouse she can truly be when she fully lets those vocals loose; excellent control on her tones & melody, resulting in an extremely high-caliber & professional guest-appearance. Great call here King!
“Wonderful” nearly sums up how I feel about King Leo and this record overall through the lyrics. Taking us through a serious groove & righteous jam in the music while explaining that although we’re different – those differences and intricacies that separate us can also be truly “Wonderful” things to celebrate and bond us together. A lot of the sentiments and intentions of King Leo’s lyrics you’ll find to be a lot more uplifting and inspiring than what you might typically associate with the Blues. I know for me, that contrast between my expectations and what KL chooses to express in his music really worked for me personally…let’s face facts…a lot of the Blues can be quite a downtrodden affair…but I really didn’t feel that way at all when listening to Revival, which was more than a pleasant surprise.
If anything…even though well-played as ever…I felt like maybe by the time we get to “Break The Habit” and “Hot Coals” back-to-back that you might feel like you’ve started Revival all over again in a sense. Still loving the harmonica whenever it pops into King Leo’s music and it sounds more than awesome on “Break The Habit” – that’s on the plus side for sure. Songwriting wise, this is where the Blues-effect of tradition starts to feel that wear & tear…and it’s right about here that I’m looking to listen to something updated, changed or twisted just a little more. In that sense, I could very well be all on my own here – Revival will certainly work really well for those that love their traditional Blues music untainted. “Hot Coals” smartly replaces the walking bass-line for a piano-version of it instead, but I’m no court-jester and the King cannot fool me here into believing I’m hearing that much of a twist on something I feel like I’ve heard many times on this record and throughout music’s history already. Were it not for a smooth saxophone-solo saving this track from its typical Blues-induced writing…I might have ‘missed’ this one on the record due to its similar sounds. With the playful bounce in the music of “Hot Coals” – it sounds like it will work well in a live-sense from the stage for an audience…but on this record for me personally, dangerously walks a fine-line towards what I feel like I’ve already heard from King Leo on Revival. When you consider you’ll head right into another low-end-walker, just slightly sped-up for the tempo & pace of “Lunch Date” – it’s something to consider. The advantage of this second-to-last tune on the record is the short sweetness to it all through the intentions of the lyrics and wild performances from all the instruments that make up its core. From the brightness of the horns to the brilliant piano-lines kicking it coolly in the background, to the perfect tones of the guitar in its solo…there’s solid stuff happening in “Lunch Date” but that consistent sound to the low-end bass-rhythms and their similarities track-to-track no matter which instrument is playing them is something that could potentially cause the people’s attention to drift from Revival and send the music from the forefront of our minds into the background of our daily tasks. As a listener…there’s a restless feeling right around these three tracks on the record and one begins to wonder what a ten-song tight-set of tunes might have done to keep us captivated rather than extend it to twelve with a few songs/sounds that drift towards a more traditional and slightly repetitive nature.
So in my opinion…the final change-up in sound, found at the very end of the record with “Peanut Slab” allows for a little bit more breathing room to acknowledge the writing a lot more. We’re still walking up and down the ol’ bass…but hey man, it’s the Blues…and in general, that reliable sound really can allow for the rest of the surrounding instruments to find some exciting and new creative-space in a song. With the harmonica once again putting in a solid performance and leading the way through much of “Peanut Slab” when trading places with the lead-guitar, King Leo takes a break from the vocals and let’s this final song work a smooth magic on you to end the record with more impact as a result. And you’ll miss him! You might feel very much like I do when I say that there’s certainly nothing wrong in the vocal department of Revival’s song-set…but a break is never a bad thing if it makes us all want to hear you come back, which I think this last song really does accomplish. It’s a great instrumental…there’s zero-doubt about that and much like the rest of the tunes on this record is played in a flawless flair of true-Blues – but without the King himself on the microphone to guide us along…I gotta admit, I started to miss the guy right away despite how much I was loving this final instrumental-style jam. It made me appreciate the magic he’s put into the microphone a little more…and I think that was a smart move on King Leo’s part as the overall result was that want to repeat this experience all over again.
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