Craft Recordings Succeeds with RSD Mono Albert King Reissue

Wouldn’t pairing a highly talented bluesman with one of the best house bands in the world result in a great record?

Stax Records did exactly this with Albert King’s 1967 LP Born Under A Bad Sign. They paired King, a then 44-year-old blues guitarist and singer, with Booker T & The MGs (Booker T. Jones, piano; Steve Cropper, guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn, bass; Al Jackson Jr, drums) and the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson, trumpet; Andrew Love, tenor saxophone; Joe Arnold, baritone saxophone and flute) for an electric blues record both hard-hitting and mellow. On this LP, King (no relation to fellow bluesmen B.B. King or Freddie King) tackles a wide array of blues and R&B standards along with a few originals written by himself and/or the Stax songwriting team which included David Porter, Booker T. Jones, William Bell, Steve Cropper, and others (unlike other Stax releases during this era, Isaac Hayes didn’t participate in the songwriting; instead, he played piano alongside Jones). Unlike other bluesmen of the time, King’s guitar sound is generally cleaner with more sustained notes, and most songs on Born Under A Bad Sign don’t follow the typical 12-bar structure.

The most well-known song on this album is probably the opening title track, written by Bell and Jones. “Born under a bad sign/Been down since I began to crawl/If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have had no luck at all,” King sings over memorable guitar riffs and gently blasting horns. “You know wine and women is all I crave/A big legged woman is gonna carry me to my grave,” King continues. Interestingly enough, the mono mix runs at a slightly faster speed than the stereo mix, giving the song a more solidified, definite sound. “Born Under A Bad Sign” eventually peaked at number 49 on the Billboard R&B charts and Cream covered the song on their third album Wheels Of Fire a year later.

The other compositions first recorded on this album are “Oh, Pretty Woman” written by A.C. Williams (not to be confused with the Roy Orbison song of the same name), “The Hunter” written by the Stax songwriting team, “Personal Manager” written by King and David Porter, “Laundromat Blues” written by Sandy Jones, Jr. and “Down Don’t Bother Me,” the only song here written solely by King. Covers make up the other half of the record; King’s performances of Leiber-Stoller’s “Kansas City” and slower songs such as Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind” and Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought Of You” add variety to the album, and King’s deep baritone voice fits them perfectly.

Like many Stax recordings, the sound quality isn’t the best due to the less-than-ideal equipment and recording situation. However, the long out of print mono mix of this album explodes out of the speakers with punch, blowing away the 2013 stereo CD edition by far. When I first dropped the tonearm on side one, “Born Under A Bad Sign” hit me like never before, and I immediately realized that the aforementioned weak sounding CD doesn’t do any justice whatsoever to this album. Further, this AAA mono LP cut by Kevin Gray and pressed by Memphis Record Pressing is dead quiet and packaged in a well-constructed tip-on jacket with top-tier artwork reproduction. Overall, this edition is probably the best and most coherent this album will ever sound, and Craft/Concord is definitely heading down the right path with a high-quality AAA release like this.

Now, is this LP worth the approximately $60 it’s going for on Discogs at the time of writing? Unless this is one of your favorite albums of all time, I suggest you try the 192kHz/24bit (also available in 96/24) high resolution download from websites like Qobuz for $15 if you missed out on the RSD vinyl. I streamed the 192/24 MQA files on Tidal, and it sounds very close to the LP. Of course it’s not as good, but it’s cheaper and gives you more value for money than the RSD LP does at inflated flipper prices. No matter which version of the remastered mono mix you listen to, however, I guarantee that you will be hearing Born Under A Bad Sign for the first time again.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor and the newest host of AnalogPlanet Radio. Follow him on Twitter @MalachiLui and SoundCloud: Malachi Lui.)

afarooqui's picture

Any idea if this is going to get a regular release later?

Thanks for the great review. Did not know about the hires download.

J. Carter's picture

Its an RSD exclusive sadly.

cdb3's picture

Sadly, another desirable RSD title unreleased in the U.K. However, what is available is the Speaker’s Corner version which though stereo sounds very good to me.

Juan's picture

The Spekers Corner stereo reissue was mastered by Kevin Gray, also, in pure AAA analogue. It costs USD 35 in USA, and is a fantastic record. And I own it. Along with Oregon' Roots in the Sky, another KG exceptional work, both are among the best SC efforts in the last years.

DangerousKitchen's picture

There was yet another vinyl re-issue of this title, mastered by Bob Irwin for Sundazed in the late 90's and (I believe)repressed again in the early 2000's. My recollection is Bob did this all analog as well.

jokerman's picture

Anyone compare these 2 pressings?

J. Carter's picture

One is stereo and one is mono. It would be nearly impossible to compare properly since they are completely different mixes.

F. Mare's picture

Same mastering of the LP?

F. Mare's picture

Or rather, did Kevin Gray make the digital master for the hi-res version?