Reviewed on this page:
The Cool Sound Of Albert Collins - Frozen Alive! - Cold Snap - Iceman
Boy, Texas-born Albert Collins was some kind of blues guitar player, with a spine-tingling tone and unique soloing approach (he always used open tuning and a capo at the seventh fret). I don't know
why he kept referring to cold, ice and snow in his song and album titles, but he was doing it right from his first single, 1958's "The Freeze."
Now, if you ask me, blues is a real limited form, which is why even the best blues guitarists can only put out a couple
of great albums before they start repeating themselves (yes, that includes Clapton's blues work).
Collins wasn't a distinctive singer (most of his early singles were instrumentals) and his songs only exist to frame his solos.
It's probably true that if you've heard one Albert Collins album you've heard 'em
all. But by all means, make sure you hear one.
The Cool Sound Of Albert Collins (rec. 1962-23, rel. 1965)
A collection of single sides, all self-composed and nearly all instrumentals, recorded in Houston.
Generally the instrumentation is guitar-bass-drums, with light touches of horns and organ, leaving maximum space for Collins
to wail. His tone and technique seem completely developed, with the stinging vibrato, quivering high notes and effortless fluidity that would remain his hallmark. But instead of falling back on
free-form solos over unvarying blues progressions, Collins crafts great hooks and honest-to-goodness verse/chorus/bridge structures -
the brilliant "Thaw Out" impressed Jimi Hendrix so much he appropriated the tune, renaming it "Driving South."
The vocal "Dyin' Flu" is just as good, and even the "Bag's Groove" theft ("Don't Lose Your Cool") is fun.
The single format does constrain him a bit, though, with no tracks running longer than three minutes; also, the surf-rock experiment "Icy Blue" was ill-advised,
and the backing can be too timid ("Tremble").
The sidemen are Bill Johnson (bass), Herbert Henderson (drums), Frank Mitchell (trumpet), Hendry Hayes (alto sax), Big Tiny (tenor sax, including a lengthy solo opening "Hot 'N Cold") and
Walter McNeil (organ).
Re-released in 1969 as Truckin' With Albert Collins. (DBW)
Trash Talkin' (1969)
Includes his version of Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do," which would become a live favorite. (DBW)
Love Can Be Found Anywhere (Even In A Guitar) (1969)
There's Gotta Be A Change (1971)
Producer Bill Szymczyk assembled a relatively high-powered cast: Dr. John,
Jessie Ed Davis,
Jim Keltner, Ernie Watts, etc.
Alive & Cool (1971)
The Hot "Cool" Sound Of Albert Collins (1973)
Another live record. (DBW)
Ice Pickin' (1978)
His first release on Alligator. (DBW)
I've heard this once, and it's a lot of fun, with exceptionally brisk soloing ("If You Love Me Like You Say") and memorable tunes ("I Got A Problem"), though some of his humor falls flat ("Don't Go Reaching Across My Plate").
Frozen Alive! (1981)
Yep, a live record, with takes on old hits ("Frosty," "Got A Mind To Travel"), standards (Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do," the swing staple "Caldonia")
and a couple of new songs ("I Got That Feeling," the ferocious instrumental "Cold Cuts").
The loose format lets Collins stretch out, building to blistering solos on "Frosty" and wrenching playing on the slow numbers (the
Albert King hit "Angel Of Mercy"), and the variety of the material makes this a great starting point.
The Icebreakers - Mavin Jackson (rhythm guitar),
A.C. Reed (tenor sax), Allen Batts (organ), Johnny B. Gayden (bass) and Casey Jones (drums) - stay as far in the background as possible, while still egging Collins on with a solid rhythmic
Produced by Bruce Iglauer and Dick Shurman.
Don't Lose Your Cool (1983)
Again backed by the Icebreakers. (DBW)
Live In Japan! (1984)
Ever notice how many live records are cut in Japan? I've read that Japanese audiences save their applause for the end of a show,
making for cleaner recordings, but I don't know how true that is. Maybe they have a lot of halls with great acoustics, or something.
In 1985 Collins appeared on Koko Taylor's Queen Of The Blues, and Showdown with Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray. (DBW)
Cold Snap (1986)
You may not remember, but there was a blues revival going on in the mid-80s, and Collins was probably more popular than ever, constantly
appearing before college students who wildly cheered songs like "I Ain't Drunk (I'm Just Drinking)," which appears here.
His band is basically playing funk, with drummer Morris Jennings and bassist Gayden laying down heavy grooves
while rhythm guitarist Mel Brown plays tight interlocking riffs ("Bending Down A Willow Tree"), with occasional assists from the
Uptown Horns. Organist Jimmy McGriff sits in on a few tracks.
The weak link is Collins: his playing on many of the fast numbers is routine ("A Good Fool Is Hard To Find"), and he deosn't hit his stride
until the last two minutes of the seven-minute "Lights Are On But Nobody's Home" - it's only on the closing "Fake I.D." he demonstrates
how devastating he is at his best. Produced by Collins, Iglauer and Shurman.
In his late fifties, Collins finally wound up on a major label.
Musicians include the Uptown Horns, Gayden, and Debbie Davies (guitar), and they
serve up pretty much the same funky blues as Cold Snap, but more perfunctory and less involving (title track). Almost every melody
and bass line sounds like a rewrite of something else: for example, "Head Rag" and "Put The Shoe On The Other Foot" are almost identical,
"The Hawk" recalls "I Ain't Drunk," etc.
Still, there are some fine examples of his playing in both slow ("Don't Mistake Kindness For Weakness") and fast ("Mr. Collins") modes.
The final release before his 1993 death from cancer; produced by Collins and Jim Gaines.
Don't lose your cool...