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Taylor again proves she's blues royalty

Force of Nature
Force of Nature
By Koko Taylor

Alligator Records: 1993

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This review first appeared in the Summer 1994 edition of Blues Revue Quarterly magazine (now Blues Revue).

Perhaps it's only now, half a decade after the death of her beloved husband, Robert "Pops" Taylor, that blues queen Koko Taylor is getting her feet back under her. That would be both understandable and consistent with the fact that this is her most confident album yet. Four years since her last outing (1990's "Jump for Joy"), Taylor delivers her strongest, most consistent studio effort.

And longtime fans need not worry – Taylor isn't one to change styles. Her trademark growling and vocal volume remain intact, as does her down-to-earth Chicago approach to the blues.

This album continues the trend begun on "Jump for Joy" of covering a classic rock song in a blues style. Following up her reading of the Ted Nugent-Derek St. Holmes hard-rock standard "Hey Baby," Taylor covers Robert Palmer's hit version of "Bad Case of Loving You." In both cases, Taylor shows that in her hands any song is at heart a blues. If you don't listen to the lyrics, you might not even realize that this is the same song done as a power-pop hit by Palmer in 1979.

Taylor also performs an imaginative arrangement of that old warhorse, "Hound Dog" – so unique it takes a couple of bars before you realize what song it is. With a slowed-down tempo and funked-up beat, Taylor and her band breathe new life into the Big Mama Thornton/Elvis Presley classic.

Another highlight is the duet with Buddy Guy on the Albert King hit "Born Under a Bad Sign." The two hit right off trading lead vocals, and Guy's guitar war is typically scintillating.

The band is outstanding. Criss Johnson continues his growth and emergence as one of Chicago's best guitarists. Jeremiah Africa's organ work is Midwestern soul incarnate (with shades of Jay McShann), and the rhythm section of bassist Jerry Murphy and drummers Ray Allison and Brady Williams lays down the sharpest back beat this side of Albert Collins' Icebreakers.