Koko Taylor – Force of Nature (1993)

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Force of Nature marked Koko Taylor’s 20th year on Alligator Records — and 28th since her remarkable hit rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” Yet it found the Tennessee native still taking gutsy risks with song selection.

There were moving ballads to balance out the groovers — a couple approximate a strictly R&B vibe; one or two even rock — and, finally, the expected growling blues.

Start with “If I Can’t Be First,” which is prototypical Koko: Gargly vocals, and bap-bap horn breaks. It’s made complete with her legendary heck-with-you attitude.

This familiar stop-dogging-me-around stance finds its surest footing in her now-legendary update (or is a backdate?) on “Hound Dog,” which initially hit not with Elvis’ take but on a racy so-called race record by Big Mama Thornton. Taylor reclaims the song from a woman’s perspective, and it’s all the more powerful for it.

She even provides a tingly thrill with a jazzy vocal intro that owes more than a little to Ella.

Guitarist Buddy Guy sits in on “Born Under a Bad Sign,” dedicated to the late, great Albert King. Guy is reliably brilliant, but Koko Taylor manages to test even this blues master. She’s like a female Junior Wells here, egging Guy on, complimenting him, getting the upper hand, superceding him.

“Mother Nature,” the apt opener, includes the late harmonica player Carey Bell (a former sideman with Robert Nighthawk and Earl Hooker). I also keep coming back to Taylor’s “63 Year Old Mama,” a cool-rocking testimony to the age-old axiom made real on Force of Nature: You’re only as old as you feel.

The whole album is like this shambling epiphany — one that eases up on you, then becomes something you felt like you knew all along: Koko Taylor has still got it.

A lot of it.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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