King Joe & The Atlantics – Here Comes (Venture Recording Company 2023)
Released 5th August 2023 Reviewed by Jack 28th August 2023
King Joe & The Atlantics are a six piece Rhythm & Blues band hailing from England. Here Comes is their second album, their first, Everybody Rock, came out at the tail end of last year. I liked that album a lot, but I absolutely adore this effort.
The band consists of: Joe Newbon (Vocals, Guitar) Peter Lawson (Upright Bass, Vocals) Wayne Lee (Piano) Al Nicholls (Tenor Sax) Nick Lunt (Baritone Sax) Mark Kemlo (Drums.) Special guests on the album; Dan Doe (Harmonica) & Shaun O’Keeffe (Backing Vocals.) The band have quite a pedigree; Wayne Lee is the son of legendary guitar genius Albert Lee. Al Nickolls is from the Big Town Playboys. Nick Lunt has been in Jools Holland’s R&B Orchestra. Basically the band are far from being amateurs. They haven’t gone down similar Jive Club roots that so many modern R&B groups have gone down. Instead, they have a passion for vintage R&B so want to keep the sound as authentic as possible. Their Bass player Pete has helped greatly with that goal. He has a great collection of vintage recording equipment, & possibly an even greater knowledge of how music was recorded in the early 1950s. They've gone to great lengths to make the album sound like something you could buy in 1953, such as recording everything live with the band round a few microphones. However, as they told me, it’s not just down to the equipment. They have made every effort to play, sing & write lyrics like their heroes would have done. As they told me, you can’t use modern Blues licks, riffs, or phrases & expect the results to sound vintage. Pete’s recording studio influences include Chess, Sun, Atlantic & New Orleans J&M, so they’re aiming the bar pretty high then. For both of their albums, they used friend Jim Dorkins' Mr Apollo studio in Kent, Dorkins helped them achieve their vision for this album. Musically, their influences include Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Little Walter & Louis Jorden. Of course, playing & singing like their idols, & all the vintage recording equipment in the world wouldn’t help if the songs or album weren’t any good. Fortunately there are no worries there. The whole thing is a great mixture of mainly covers, with some faithful originals, that perfectly capture the feel of the music they love. They’ve managed to avoid the results being academic & clinical, as can sometimes happen when trying to recreate vintage sounds. Instead, the album has the same excitement as all those classic Chess, Sun & Specialty sides we know & love. They’ve mixed a number of different styles, keeping the album varied & surprising. I’m greatly impressed with their choice of covers, with one exception, they’ve avoided obvious covers, thus introducing me to some new tracks. On to the album itself
Well Oh Well; Probably the most well-known cover on the entire record. The track was originally an exciting jumpin’ R&B number by the great Tiny Bradsure, a personal favourite of mine. In fact, Joe’s vocals often have the grit & joy contained in Tiny’s classic vocals. This is a faithful cover of the track, however, it still manages to retain similar energy and thus is equally exciting. It also illustrates perfectly what the band are all about, making it a great album opener.
Quit Foolin’ Around; a band original. This is a great slice of jumpin’ R&B, showing the depth of knowledge & feel all have for the music. The sax players are particularly impressive throughout, reminding me of all those classic New Orleans sounds created at J&M studios, Fats Domino, Little Richard etc.
I’m Gone, So Long; this is where the album really excels. The lyrics are so on the mark when it comes to recreating classic R&B & Blues, it was hard to know where the covers stopped & the originals began. This is a great piece of up-tempo Blues that I would have sworn was a Slim Harpo or Jimmy Reed original. The great harmonica didn’t help me figure it out. In any case, when contacting the band, I was surprised & delighted to learn this was an original song. The playing is bang on the money, as are the lyrics; references to red dresses & perfume & all, fantastic. At over 4 minutes, the track could try my patience, but when you’re in that Blues groove, you’re in the groove.
Midnight Rain; another I would have guessed to be a vintage late 40s/early 50s Blues ballad, but no other original. Although no one artist was in mind when the song was written, similarities to Percy Mayfield & Charles Brown have been suggested, the latter by yours truly. This track is a perfect recreation of the Blues ballad, capturing the longing and moody tones of all the greats before them. Even the percussion has the added effect of almost making the track sound like a vintage late 40s recording, dubbed from an old 78rpm disc. The only two things that point to a modern recording are, the track isn’t buried under heavy surface noise, & once again we pass the 4-minute mark, too long a running time for a single side of shellac. Following three up tempo pieces, this is a nice change to the tempo of the album.
She Likes To Boogie Real Low; another relatively well-known track, in as much as I’ve heard of it, originally cut by Blues great Frankie Lee Simms. Again, the band remains faithful to the original. Yet rather than be a pale imitation, it retains the joy & party atmosphere of this up-tempo gem. The song tells us how his girl likes to…well…boogie real low. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but being the Blues, I’m guessing it’s dirty.
Killin’ Jive; another change of pace. This cover is straight out of left field, showing the melting pot that is their musical influences. The track was originally cut by Cats & The Fiddle, a vocal group similar to the Ink Spots. The track was cut for the Bluebird label in 1939. Rather than being out of place, the track provides a fun change to proceedings. Cats & The Fiddle, whilst being very much in the old guard of vocal groups, were influences of early R&B vocal groups, such as The Orioles, who covered I Miss You So by the same group. Back to King Joe though, again, this is a faithful rendition, but keeping the fun & sound of the late 1930s. from the exquisite vocal harmonies to the 30s sounding guitar, it’s all there. The chirpy number seems to be about smoking something that I don’t think is tobacco. So basically, not much has changed in 74 years.
Set Him Free; a fantastic band original & a top slice of R&B joy. The song wouldn’t have been out of place at a session for any of the great Blues shouters; Big Joe Turner, Roy Brown, & of course the king of them all, Wynonnie Harris. The sax players again have that great New Orleans sound, I like to think Lee Allen would have been proud.
That’s All Right; no not the classic Blues track, made famous by that truck driver from Memphis when he cut it for Sun. no, this is another original. Again, I would have been sure this was a cover of an old Blues song. This time, the influences are Muddy Waters & Little Walter, although elements of Jimmy Reed & Slim Harpo are again present. Joe can make his vocals sound very similar to Harpo when the mood calls for it. This track is a great Blues Bopper. This needs to be put out on a vinyl 45, I’m sure it would be a popular choice in Rockin’ clubs. It could prove a winner for DJs & dancers alike, it's shit hot.
I Wanna Know Why; a vocal group number originally done by The Cleeks in 1956. Being a hughe fan of Doo-Wop & Vocal Group stuff, I’m often moaning about the lack of new groups playing in this style. Of course, King Joe & The Atlantics excel at this style. A great track.
Slik Rhythm; another change of pace. This time we’re treated to an original instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Mod compilation. Again, the band is in the groove & are tight. We’re also treated to an organ, giving it that early 1960s feel, when R&B was slowly becoming Soul Music, a nice groover.
Guess I’m A Fool; another cover, this time of a track by cool Blues legend Memphis Slim. Slim cut his version for Premium Reords in 1950. Slim’s piano playing has a Jazz feel, which this cover retains. That might turn some people off, but not me. The end result is another lovely Blues ballad. Joe’s vocal is just as cool and restrained as Slim’s was, setting a lonely & mellow tone. Like Midnight Rain before it, the percussion gives us the feel of listening to a vintage 78. Incidentally I’ve no idea if this was done on purpose, or if it is a happy coincidence.
Bulldose Blues; the oldest cover on the album. This great slice of Country-Blues was cut by Henery Thomas (b.1874) in the late 20s, Thomas would die in 1930. If you listen & think it reminds you of something, a version adapted in 1927 as Up The Country, was again modified by Canned Head as Going Up The Country, a UK top 20 hit in 1969. However, King Joe has no elements of 60s Blues Rock, & every element of Downhome Country-Blues in their great version. I actually prefer the harmonica in their version, to whatever instrument may be present in Thomas’ original, sounds like an out-of-tune flute to me. Of course, their equipment can’t make them sound like a 1920s Blues outfit, instead the recording sounds like a track on a late 50s/early 60s Folk Blues revival. I could happily hear a whole album of King Joe & The Atlantics doing Country-Blues, yes of course they are fantastic at this style, now they’re just showing off. As Elvis Presley once called great musicians, genius bastards. Love it.
It's Obdacious; a Buddy Johnson original, though the band were influenced by a version by Gregg Piccolo, which they love. In any case, it’s a great piece of R&B, as we have come to expect by now. Nice mid-tempo sounds here.
Highballin’ Daddy; & we finish where we started, with another Tiny Bradshaw cover. Again, Joe has vocals similar to Bradshaw, & again the band keep the original sound exciting, leading to a satisfying close to a fantastic album.
What more can I say? The last album was very good, but this album is leaps ahead. Pete, with the help of more purchasing of vintage equipment, has really made the band sound as though they’re in J&M or Atlantic in the early 1950s. The sound has been adapted to whatever style the band is playing in. be it R&B, Vocal Group, Country-Blues…they can play it all. They have a good eye for a cover version, but can also come up with the goods of originals faithful to their influences. Of course, they’re not reinventing the wheel, but when music’s this good, who cares. All the band play well, but I’m especially impressed with the Sax playing & Joe’s singing. The slight trace of a British accent gives the recordings a unique touch. I’m really hoping we’ve only just begun to sample their greatness. I can predict big things for them on the rockin’ scene, if there’s any justice in the world. My closing comments say it all really; what The County Side of Harmonica Sam have done for classic Bakersfield Country on the Rockin’ scene, King Joe & The Atlantics have done for Rhythm & Blues. One of my albums of the year.