We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking here about the numerous second generation blues men and women helping to carry on their fathers’ musical legacies, including such artists as Shemekia Copeland, Bernard Allison, Lurrie Bell, Mud and Big Bill Morganfield, and Zakiya Hooker, to name just a few. Sometimes, we may not need to wait for the next generation to pick up the torch, if, for instance, there happens to be a sibling who also sings or plays – Austin’s Jimmie Vaughan being a pretty good example, along with this fellow Texan, who, by name, may not be instantly recognizable as a relative of blues royalty, but has certainly paid his dues in the biz, having played for his late brother’s band for a decade and then served as a musician and bandleader for the “Blues Queen of New Orleans” Marva Wright for more than 20 years before finally assuming center stage as the leader of his own band just six years back, also supporting the likes of Chicago bluesman Mighty Joe Young and the famous gospel group The Soul Stirrers (of Sam Cooke fame) throughout his more than 50-year career.
Even with those background details revealed, many still may not recognize the name of electric bassist Benny Turner, the younger brother of and a longtime player with the late blues great and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Freddie King (who left this earth nearly four decades ago now). But we suspect that the veteran bluesman’s newest album, When She’s Gone (Nola Blue, Inc.), will go a long way in helping Turner to make a name for himself and gaining the attention he deserves as both a musician and singer.
Having already recorded a full album in tribute to Freddie in his A Tribute to My Brother Freddie King some years back, Turner wisely chose to make When She’s Gone mostly about his own music, revisiting half a dozen songs that he originally recorded on his 1997 debut album Blue and Not So Blue. Turner does delve into his brother’s catalog to cover three songs that Freddie also used to perform in Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright”, and Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby”, in addition to offering up a haunting, New Orleans-style slow-blues take on Charles Brown‘s “Black Night”, featuring none other than Brown himself on piano.
Brown can also be heard on “So Deep”, a slow, passionate ballad with strong gospel-like backing vocals that, probably more so than any of the other originals, sounds like something brother Freddie could easily have performed. Recorded in 1997, the songs are believed to have been one of Brown’s last recording sessions – possibly the last – before he died in early 1999, with the master tape for “Black Night” long feared to have been lost in Hurricane Katrina. Once rediscovered, the historic recording was transferred to digital format just in the nick of time, with the tape disintegrating on only the second transfer attempt (fortunately, they were able to capture the entire recording on the tape’s first run).
Brown isn’t the only notable guest appearance on the album: guitarist Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters Band) contributes on two numbers, first adding some creeping twangs to “Ain’t No Sunshine” with his slide guitar, and then playing some delightful lead on “Reconsider Baby”, while Dr. John steps away from the keyboards for a rare appearance on rhythm guitar for the soft, jazz-tinged R&B original “Because of You”. And Marva Wright adds some extra power and soul on “Pity on This Lovesick Fool”, a duet recorded shortly before her death that features plenty of funky organ and bass.
The album opens on the soulful, Delbert McClinton-like swinging R&B of “I Can’t Leave”, with remaining originals including a creeping, Curtis Salgado-style “If I Can’t Have You” that adds some nice harmonica to an already rich mix of keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion, then morphs seamlessly into another creeper in “Have You Ever Been So Lonesome”. That’s followed by a slow but steady take on Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” and one of the most soulful versions of Rogers’ “That’s Alright” you’ll ever hear, with Turner himself on lead guitar in addition to bass and vocals.
Several of the songs here make good use of backing vocals, reflecting Turner’s background in gospel music, and Benny’s voice itself is strong and soulful, very much in line with those previously mentioned as well as the likes of Keb’ Mo’ and Johnny Rawls.
Released this past Valentine’s Day in memory of Turner’s mother (who was born on that day), When She’s Gone is a real sweetheart of a recording that not only beautifully captures the essence of Turner’s history but will undoubtedly also rank as one of this year’s best soul-blues recordings.