Solomon King – Medicine (2011)

Share this:

Over the course of the striking, stripped-down Medicine, former Detroit autoworker Solomon King returns to that moment when the blues moved inexorably away from the uplift that defined gospel music, and ultimately toward rock ‘n’ roll and then hip hop. The blues sought, at first, to define every-day concerns, but there were no easy answers. As with King’s efforts on this new project, it sought to render those things more real, to define them. That made the music, back in the days of Son House and Robert Johnson, more dangerous than danceable.

Same here. King’s title track on Medicine, a new release produced by Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice), is a shivering fever dream, this stalking series of worries set against a halting, haunting groove. There is a looming sense of empty longing, something long unrequited. “Baby Does Me Good” takes the same basic instrumentation — guitar, bass, drums, augmented by a fuzzy echo — but goes deeper into a memorable crepuscular fear, the idea that our worst addiction, the passion for earthly love … our shared carnal desire … will ultimately bring us low.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” King sings, with a ragged glory, on “Trouble.” “You never gave a sh—t, about anyone but you.” Then he closes the loop, adding darkly: “So that makes two of us, that don’t have much to lose.”

Even when King — whose Under the Sun was Grammy nominated in 2009 for best contemporary blues album — gives in, as on “Make You Mine,” “Little Wheel” or the Lou Reed-ish “Bucket,” there is still a looming uneasiness, this weird subtext, to his exclamations of love. Something reckless, and maybe ultimately relentless. He’s a living, breathing fable about getting mixed up with the wrong kind of passion. When King sings “Don’t You Love Me No More?,” in a clinched-teeth menace, it’s like hearing him through the peephole as he beats on an ex’s door.

King, who has had two tracks featured on HBO’s “True Blood” series, reclaims a teetering peril that can be lost in the polished, almost professorial blues music of today — the idea that life could take a turn. And that once it does, you might be left without redemption, without relief, without even rest. Then the only solace, the only defense, against these demons might just be to become more like them.

As Medicine concluded, I couldn’t help but think of Johnson, the doomed womanizer, singing “me and the devil, was walking side by side.” And how long it’s been since someone reached down so completely into that sense of fateful dread.

Solomon King does that, and it’s a remarkable journey.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B0050LL2OC” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

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
Share this:
Close