Manhaton [Release date 04.05.15]
Four years after their debut album, King King have outgrown their original mould to such a extent that the album title is more a reality than an aspiration.
‘Reaching For The Light’ reflects a band that has naturally evolved and broadened its song craft to incorporate rock, blues, funk and soul elements, and shape it to their own ends. The result is an album that bristles with intent and delivers with brio.
Alan Nimmo tells us the album is ‘faster, louder, more energetic and more exciting’, and you can certainly feel the intensity coursing through the veins of 9 tracks, which with the exception of ‘Lay With Me’, flow eloquently over a series of interlocked grooves as thick as black syrup.
If there’s a question mark, it’s simply the overall direction of the album. The band certainly has the will and ability to rock out as evidenced by the lead single ‘Hurricane’. The bustling riff, tough vocal, dual guitar lines and punchy hook are their trademark staples, but this fierce blues-rocker only partially mirrors the direction of an album that never quite lets go of its soulful heart.
‘Reaching For The Light’ delivers familiar high quality fare for the converted, but for the uninitiated there’s a slight tension between the different musical directions. King King find themselves in the classic stick or twist situation, in as much as they don’t rock hard enough for headbanger’s and don’t tick enough boxes for the blues police.
This pushes them in the direction of high quality, cross-over material such as the superbly crafted ‘You Stopped The Rain’ which has a stronger hook and arguably greater commercial potential than ‘Hurricane’.
It’s the kind of mid-paced melodic rocker that most closely defines their recorded output and offers them a portal to a bigger arena than they’ve enjoyed so far.
‘Reaching For The Light’ also features Alan Nimmo’s best vocals of his career. He veers toward a transatlantic style on the uplifting soulful hook of ‘Waking Up’, complete with harmony guitars and an enveloping groove that has a lovely retro feel clothed in contemporary production values.
He’s equally good on the slow building, power chord driven and Paul Rodgers influenced ‘Rush Hour’, which impressively combines elements of Free, Storyville and southern rock over Bob Fridzema’s Hammond swells.
The big sounding track is an album highlight on which King King sound as if they’ve found what their looking for. Alan smothers the track with an expressive soulful vocal and adds the kind of guttural enunciation that suggests he won’t settle for any half measures.
There’s further traces of Paul Rodgers and Bad Company on the smouldering rock-ballad ‘Take A Look’ and they cleverly update Thunder on the funky undertow of ‘Crazy’. The latter is given its own unique vision by a layered sound, Lindsay Coulson’s pulsing bass and an effective stop-time chorus which lodges itself in your subconscious.
And it’s that kind of a slow build with a tension resolving hook that gives ‘Reaching For The Light’ its appeal. It’s also possibly the reason why the ballad ‘Lay With Me’ sounds like a filler. It’s a pleasant enough song, but doesn’t generate the kind of emotional connection needed to draw the listener in.
In sharp contrast they snap into the wah-wah driven soul-funk of the well chosen Paul Carrack and Charlie Dore penned ‘Just A Little Lie’, to make the song their own.
They also revel on the brooding ‘Stranger To Love’ which bubbles under before revealing itself as a post-Whitesnake power ballad well suited to both Alan’s vocal range, his stellar guitar chops, and the band’s tight ensemble playing.
King King set themselves high standards with ‘Reaching For The Light’ and even if they occasionally takes the long route home, they reach their destination with a flourish and the best album of their career. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
Gig review (Jazz Cafe, London, 6 May 2015)
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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