King Ernest
King of Hearts
Evidence 26084-2
Ernest Baker last recorded three decades ago, yet he's resurfaced to be part of a decidedly '90s kind of blues album: loud and rocking with blazing drums mixed at the fore and a wall of harp, horn and guitar sound. If this brings up a red flag for you, you're excused to return to your Tampa Red or Barbecue Bob. On the other hand, though the production is assembled with a keen eye to the marketplace, King Ernest's exceptional voice and the sheer exuberance of King of Hearts puts it head and shoulders above the current mainstream.

Mississippi-born Baker was anointed King Ernest during his soul-circuit days in the mid-'60s and '70s, when he was a dynamic and acrobatic performer in the James Brown mold (see BLUES ACCESS #29) before giving up the ephemeral music business for a day job with the L.A. Sheriff's Department and gospel singing at his church. Still a young man in his 50s, Ernest, with the help of producer Randy Chortkoff, is giving another go at the blues.

Chortkoff has brought together no less than 15 musicians, including many of L.A.'s best, along with blues rocker Jimmy Rip (he contributes "Better Days," co-written with Mick Jagger, who also plays restrained guitar on that one track). Zach Zunis successfully handles the bulk of the remaining guitar duties.

But there's no question that the star of the show is King Ernest and his huge instrument: that voice, of course. Like the big, bad wolf, this man can huff and puff and easily blow your house down. His voice is powerful, but it's also smooth and sensual and rooted in gospel. His ability to so easily match the volume of the accompaniment creates tremendous energy and drive in the music.

Among the 10 tracks are a reprise of Baker's 1965 single, "I Resign," Junior Parker's "In the Dark," a nifty version of Charlie Musselwhite's "Long As I Have You," and, to my chagrin, Harold Burrage's "Cryin' for My Baby" -- that "wahoo" refrain is like nails scraping against a chalkboard. Otherwise it's all great fun and great blues.

-- Jack Oudiz

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Boulder, CO, USA.