The Three Kings
Guitarist Jeff Golub has, throughout his career, split his time between cutting instrumental smooth jazz that leans toward contemporary R&B and turning up the volume as a blues-rocker and longtime Rod Stewart and Billy Squier sideman. The Three Kings falls squarely into the latter camp, its title a reference to B.B., Albert and Freddie King, the unrelated though often lumped-together Kings of the Blues. For his tribute, Golub keeps things lean and alternately clean and mean. Bassist Andy Hess and drummer Josh Dion provide a firm foundation for Golub’s muscular, well-framed soloing, and New Orleans pianist Henry Butler bestows the jams with melodic coloring and dynamic soul.
The non-singing Golub may take top billing, but The Three Kings is a collaborative effort: Butler’s throaty vocals on five tracks, among them the B.B.-associated opener “Let the Good Times Roll,” Albert’s signature “Born Under a Bad Sign” and particularly the Billy Myles-written “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?” (popularized by Freddie), bring a gutsiness to the set, and Dion, though thinner vocally than Butler, handles three tracks—including the B.B. staple “Everyday I Have the Blues”—authoritatively. Chris Palmaro on B3 organ and a four-man horn team including Euge Groove on tenor sax fill out the arrangements.
At the core of it all, of course, is Golub. He certainly doesn’t redefine the blues guitar tradition in any way, but he demonstrates a command of the form and an undeniable reverence for his subjects. “In Plain Sight,” one of two original tracks and featuring guest guitarist Sonny Landreth (Robben Ford is the other guest, on Freddie’s “Side Tracked”), incorporates licks that any of the subjects would’ve been happy to claim, and the instrumental take on B.B.’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” while barely budging from the familiar arrangement, is nonetheless a respectful and stirring version that allows Golub and Butler ample room to converse.