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King Hokum (KHR03CD)

How Long, The Zombie, Get On The Floor, The Thing I Done, Tomorrow Gon’ Be Too Late, Mama Got The Blues, Goin’ Back South, The Jungle Swing, Good Luck Charm, I'm The Jungle Man, On A Desert Isle and We Gon’ Boogaloo

It’s been some four years since Jungle Blues (KHR02CD), the album that finally established the reputation of CW Stoneking as a unique and compelling purveyor of early jazz, blues, calypso, vintage jazz, old-timey, ragtime, hokum, hollers and more. To this sepia-tinged aggregation of a bygone era of American music, he perversely but successfully overlaid it with lyrics that played out a life-long obsession with all things ‘jungle’, from songs about fighting lions, hearing ominous drum beats in the distance and taking solace in drink in the officers’ mess.

If this peculiar marriage of pre-war music of the American south and exotic mystery of the jungle sounds far too peculiar to work, this album comes at you to explode once and for all any doubts you may have. And what’s more, his obsessions and pre-occupations have only deepened!

Once again, coming at you like a snake-oil salesman, a sort of Elmer Gantry-figure without the Bible, we once again have a once-heard, never-forgotten collection of 12 songs that, at a quick count, includes two with the word ‘jungle’ in the title, one that celebrates a dance craze sweeping the Congo, one that refers to himself (or the main character in the song) as ‘Jungleman’, one that concerns itself with good luck charms and another about life on a desert isle.

Not that this album in any way seeks to simply repeat the winning formula of Jungle Blues. While the pre-occupations remain, the musical landscape has been altered in two fundamental ways. The first of these is that he has finally discovered electricity, by and large laying aside his acoustic guitar and banjo in favour of an amplified Fender Jazzmaster guitar. His playing throughout is a revelation, invoking the spirit of revered Mississippi hill country bluesmen, guitar-toting evangelical ministers and early R&B guitar heroes. The other important change is the incorporation of female backing singers on most tracks, adding extra bounce and style to proceedings. These ladies would appear to have been chosen for their capacity to instil life, vitality and atmosphere as much as any singing ability. If you can imagine the Andrews Sisters and Althea And Donna singing together, and on happy pills, you might get the flavour of just how much fun is on offer!

Ultimately however it is the songs that make this album such an unqualified success. They are endlessly inventive,  imaginative and quite unlike anything that would be contemplated, never mind delivered, by anybody else.  And every one of the 12 tracks on show is a sure-fire winner.

Not being a snake-oil salesman myself, I feel you can trust me when I say that this is the album of 2014. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy now!

Review Date: October 2014

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