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Kings Highway - The Line

Rat Pak Records

10 songs; 45:20 minutes

Styles: Blues Rock

One would not expect a man with the name of Cedric D. Square to sing the way he does. Characterized as a “powerhouse vocalist,” his timbre is a querulous cross between a poor man's Stevie Ray Vaughan and Darius Rucker (“Hootie” from Hootie and the Blowfish). It's one of two notable aspects of Kings Highway's sophomore release, “The Line.” Its other one is the complete blurring of “the line” between rock and blues. Ordinarily, this would not bar an album from fans' collections, but here it might. Pure blues is a distinct genre, and connoisseurs know what musical arrangements constitute it. Do those of “The Line” qualify? It's up to listeners to decide. To Kings Highway's credit, all ten tracks are originals, written and arranged by its two brash lead guitarists, Michael Schultz and Mike Stone.

Not to be confused with central Illinois’ “King’s Highway,” this band was originally formed in 2008 by Schultz, drummer Tommy “Tomahawk” Purcell and Cedric Square in southeastern Wisconsin. The band released their self-titled debut album in 2009 and became an instant regional hit with their explosive live performances. Kings Highway took on a new dynamic in 2010 with the addition of noted guitarist and producer Mike Stone, before entering the studio to record this full-length effort. Bassist Guy Bazilewich recently joined the ranks, adding even more dimension and texture to the band's signature sound.

Surprisingly enough (or not), the best song on the album is its first one. An instrumental, “Giddy Up!” conjures images of not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the Indianapolis 500, in a listener's mind. Its galloping pace begins with “Tomahawk” Purcell's rat-a-tat drums and ends with a cliffhanging note. One honestly cannot tell where this song ends and the next one begins simply by listening. “I'm On Your Side” and the title track are slow ballads in which Square exudes the most emotion. They're persistent earworms, especially with the “la-LA-la-la-la” refrain on the former song. For a rip-roaring rocker that provides a bigger jolt than caffeine, check out the ninth selection: “I think I know what you need—what you need,” Square brazenly insinuates. “We're gonna make you shake and move; 'Tomahawk', will lay the groove. It's on! Yeah, it's on!” Square's vocals may be an acquired taste, but Kings Highway definitely toes “The Line.”.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 31-year-old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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