It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around it today, but in the late Seventies, George Thorogood was a punk. Sure, it was the era of the Clash, Sex Pistols, and angry young men like Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, but Thorogood fit right in.
His Boston-based blues & boogie were a breath of fresh air in a genre that was nearly dead, and the bandleader guitarist presented both with a snot-nosed attitude that was closer to Johnny Ramone than Billy Gibbons.
More than three decades later, his first two albums with the Destroyers, 1977’s self-titled debut and the next year’s Move It On Over, are seeing reissues and they still sound fresh. Thorogood covers Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and a few of their contemporaries in a way he co-opted from Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers. Nothing lazy or polished, yet it continues to fascinate with a relentlessness and simplicity.
Thorogood’s first two albums helped put Rounder Records on the map, in fact. You may have heard “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” or “Who Do You Love?,” but once you experience the Destroyers barreling through Berry’s “It Wasn’t Me” or “Ride On Josephine,” you’ll understand why – initially at least – they were more than just bad to the bone.
Around the same time, ‘a new Dylan’ broke out of New York City, where he dared to play the venues that featured bands like the Ramones, Dead Boys, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Up from Mississippi, Steve Forbert’s first two albums, 1978’s Alive On Arrival and 1979’s Jackrabbit Slim, made as big a splash as any new singer-songwriter of the time. Now available as a twofer with plenty of bonus tracks, these discs are more than plain nostalgia, although the Top 20 “Romeo’s Tune” can’t help but bear a little of that.
Otherwise, “It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way,” “You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play,” “Complications,” and “What Kind Of Guy?” are textbook examples of songwriting that cuts to the bone from a guy who deserves the same sort of admiration proffered to John Prine and Loudon Wainwright, two other ‘new Dylans.’ Spotty availability over the years and a superb set of bonus tracks culled from outtakes of the original sessions, including “The Oil Song,” “Smoky Windows,” and “House of Cards,” make this a must for fans and newbies alike.
Albert King’s 1967 debut for Stax Records, Born Under a Bad Sign, was both the Delta bluesman’s commercial breakthrough and among the best blues albums of that decade. Backed by both Booker T. & the MGs and the Memphis Horns, songs like the title track, “Crosscut Saw,” and “Laundromat Blues” retain a singular flavor: a mix of smokey soul with King’s trademark Flying V on top.
King played a sizable role in the development of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Austin’s own Stevie Ray Vaughan. A year after the release of Born Under a Bad Sign, Clapton’s Cream covered the title track on Wheels of Fire. And don’t forget the big man’s summit with SRV on In Session.
Besides tunes like “The Very Thought of You,” and “I Almost Lost My Mind” shining a light on King’s crooner side, the 2013 version contains five bonus tracks from the Stax vaults, the most interesting being an untitled instrumental that finds King getting extra fiery over a steamy horn chart and an insistent MGs groove.
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