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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
It’s a shame that all albums can’t be this easy to enjoy. But when the first track, “Mary-Ann,” cuts loose with its blend of ‘50s backbeat and New Orleans swing, there’s no denying how great Kingen really is. One could sit back and reminisce about how odd it was back in the ‘80s when the Stray Cats scored with their rockabilly hits deep in the middle of the New Wave years, but these days, when it feels like everything is a crap shoot in the music business, Kingen’s style comes off as vibrant, fun, and not in the least bit kitsch. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s not rocking just one vein of R&B here. And when I say “R&B,” I do mean the real thing, not the soft-porno schlock that always gets mislabeled with that term these days.
So yeah, if you like tunes like “Sea Cruise” or “Rock and Roll Pneumonia with the Boogie-Woogie Flu,” you’ll feel right at home here. But on top of that, there’s absolutely exciting fare such as “She’s Mine,” where Kingen throws down mightily, Commitments-style, and brings the soul to the brothers and sisters everywhere. This is sweaty, beautiful stuff. It makes you wonder why such rock is considered “nostalgic” when it’s simply good music, just like it always was. But then, perhaps, the further you get away from the original sources as time goes on, the ridiculous irony can not help but set in. After all, we are living in a time when bands are embracing that whole early ‘80s sound, and everyone points and thinks it’s all very amusing.
“Be-bop Street” more or less addresses this case, in both sound and lyrics. The Eddie Cochran groove is married to an electronic backbeat, and the whole thing thumbs its nose at would-be tastemakers who figure they have their fingers on the pulse of what’s good. On the other hand, there’s the smooth “I Don’t Wanna Lose You,” which rides the Al Green highway without a hint of irony. Guest vocalist Erica Skogen positively smolders here as well, making the track a sensual triumph. And again, it’s all without any pretense whatsoever. This is just what Kingen does.
But that’s what “Basics” is all about as well, with its gutbucket soul groove, hot shit harmonica licks, and enough genuine attitude to make every phony R&B “artist” out there blush with envy. And with the slinky closer “Tu-ber-cu-lucas and the Sinus Blues,” Kingen may as well just head on down to Louisiana and set up shop for a good long while. He’d be more than welcome there, though it’s not hard to imagine him being welcomed anywhere he went with these tunes. Ride with Me is simply an impeccable collection of 11 tracks that get in and get the job done precisely and perfectly without screwing around in a “look what I’m doing” frame of mind. The music just simply is, as is the joy in hearing it. Hail to Kingen, indeed.