By Martine Ehrenclou
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is set to take the world by storm with his highly anticipated debut album, Kingfish, out May 17, 2019 via Alligator Records and produced by two-time Grammy winner, Tom Hambridge. Kingfish is a big album. Perhaps the biggest blues album to hit 2019. This is no ordinary guitarist, singer-songwriter. Ingram is a true, blues music phenom who is rattling the music scene right down to the root.
And he’s only 20 years old.
To witness Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, is to take in the forefathers of the Delta blues, and yet he possesses a certain freshness, a unique spirit for our time. His guitar playing is nothing short of superb and his rich, soulful voice touches you to the core.
Ingram has been hailed as the future of the blues. He can shred like guitarists decades older, but it’s the emotion in his playing and singing that brings his music home. And Christone “Kingfish” Ingram hits a home run with his album, Kingfish.
What stands out immediately about Ingram is not just his amazing gifts for singing and playing blistering, inspired blues, but for his songwriting. He co-wrote eight out of 12 tracks and most are either moving slow blues, catchy foot-tapping tunes, or house rockin’ blues. A few are personal stories about Ingram himself so you know he had a big hand in writing the lyrics. And because of the up-close-and-personal, there’s an intimacy, or perhaps vulnerability, in his music that draws you in.
Take the opening track, “Outside of This Town,” which could be Ingram’s blues rock and roll anthem about busting out of town and heading for much bigger things. It’s a statement about kicking off the diving board with full spring and beginning a new life. It could be seen as a metaphor for this bluesman and his debut, and if it is, it’s certainly appropriate. Because Christone Ingram is hitting the big time.
Speaking of big time, “Fresh Out,” featuring the great Buddy Guy, is a dynamic, more traditional blues number with a fresh, modern twist. With Guy and Ingram trading guitar duties and vocals, there’s a lot of fun to be had. Ingram sings with the confidence and authority of an experienced bluesman, and with Buddy Guy at his side, you can’t help but wonder who is the elder statesman. You have to see Buddy Guy live with his child-like demeanor to understand what I mean. With passionate guitar solos between the two of them, this duet is pure magic.
On an album of many standouts, “Been Here Before,” is a beautiful acoustic blues tune with Ingram on acoustic guitar and singing about himself, his mama and grandma. Musically and lyrically the song is raw and expressive, and represents an underlying theme with Ingram—an old soul in a 20 year-old body. Unlike his peers, he isn’t listening to radio hits—he’s listening to Guitar Slim. This is storytelling at its best.
“I don’t know where I come from
Or how I got this way.
Mama said that the sky lit up
With lightning on my birthday.
I’ve always been different
There’s one thing that’s for sure
I can still hear Grandma sayin’
Child you’ve been here before.”
Ingram’s vocals are so soulful on this tune, I’d be surprised if you didn’t lean in to his voice to hear his deep and full bodied tones. His acoustic guitar solo, exquisite in its simplicity, is full of melodic notes and string bends. This might seem like a subtle winner until you listen to it a few times. And then, like I did, you might fall back against your chair and just say, “Wow.”
Born to a musical family near Clarksdale Mississippi, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was surrounded by music growing up. His family sang at their family church, and his mother is first cousin to country music legend, Charley Pride. Starting at age six, Ingram played drums, bass and then at age 11 quickly mastered the guitar. He soaked up music from Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, BB King, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix and Prince. After participating at a program at the Delta Blues Museum, he first stepped on stage at age 11 at Clarksdale’s Ground Zero Club and went on to perform at the White House. He then shared stages with Buddy Guy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Robert Randolph, Guitar Shorty, Eric Gales and many others.
It’s no surprise that Christone Ingram co-wrote, “If You Love Me” with the young, uber-talented acoustic bluesman, Jontavious Willis. The song features Billy Branch playing some fine harmonica, and Keb’ Mo’, elegant player that he is, on guitar. An up-tempo, totally fun blues shuffle about hopeful love, the musicianship is superb.
Another standout, “Love Ain’t My Favorite Word” opens with a dazzling guitar solo by Ingram. A song about heartbreak and a girl who left, Ingram kills it on vocals and guitar. His six-string solo mid-way through the tune, is full of passion and grit, string bends and lightning-fast fingers tripping the fretboard. He makes that guitar whine and moan. If you want a guitar lesson on how to play the blues right—this is it. His singing? Deep seated soul.
“Trouble,” yet another standout on the record, has a syncopated beat with some kind of rhythm. Great storytelling with lots of humor woven in. And it’s fun. A blast really. Tom Hambridge’s drumming is top notch on the entire record, but here he also plays percussion that fits neatly with the groove. Bass player Tommy Macdonald must also be mentioned as he locks it down with Hambridge on this and all of the tunes on the record.
Kingfish closes with another winner of a blues number, “That’s Fine By Me,” a 12 bar blues that features Ingram’s exciting talents on guitar and vocals. There’s some lovely piano by Marty Sammon that adds texture and finesse on a song that could well become a blues standard.
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