Radio Kings
Money Road
Bullseye Blues 9601
Even if this debut album were a tenth as great as producer Dave Alvin's fawning liner notes imply, the Kings would be a terrific roots-rock band. As it is, they're probably a third as great as that: Singer Brian Templeton's low voice would be a perfect fit in Los Lobos, hitting the nether region between blues and old-fashioned country, and "Song of Love" is one of those upbeat tear-jerkers that gets catchier and more irresistible as it goes along.

Money Road is at first a straightforward contemporary blues album -- it opens, for heaven's sakes, with a carbon copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Love Struck Baby" electric-guitar riff -- before quickly detouring. Guitarist Michael Dinallo plays mostly rockabilly solos, which gives "Virginia" a Carl Perkins country feeling, while Templeton's harp descends directly from Sonny Boy Williamson. Tossed against each other, the two styles add up to soft soul ("The Shelf") and bouncy R&B ("Leave a Light On").

The Kings are obviously good at this, arranging the horns on the jumping "Thirty Days" with perfect precision and never crowding the short, tight songs with solos, although Templeton and Dinallo get their spotlights every time. Using this formula, they occasionally hit on an incredible melody, such as "Song of Love" or the spooky, swinging "Money In Her Pocket."

But it's a formula, and it's hard not to recall the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Alvin's Blasters, X, or any of the other American-music fans who have played this music better. In the liner notes, Alvin reports that the Kings "play their asses off," which may be true, but they lack the explosiveness their forefathers used to compact into fast little songs. Of course, as Alvin says, "their new CD is just the beginning for them," and it's unfair to compare a new band to the Blasters this soon. We'll wait until the next album for that.

-- Steve Knopper

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.