The debut album from King Soloman Hicks is a homage to the blues. Through a mixture of covers and originals, he hops around blues history from the spiritual to the traditional, from funky to the fusions. Harlem is also an ode to the rich history of the city's music scene and the Hicks' hometown, where the 24-year-old learnt his licks.
The opener I'd Rather Be Blind is the first of many tracks where comparisons can be made to a young Robert Cray in terms of vocal style and guitar feel. Every Day I Sing The Blues gets a full band re-imagining with the riff from Cream's Cross Road Blues leading the way. Two tracks in and it's clear that what could have been a striking debut is over-reliant on the sounds of others. As a result the energy Hicks has throughout the album is never matched with anything truly musically idiosyncratic.
The instrumentals on the album are perhaps where Hicks feels most comfortable. 421 South Main has a live feel that really starts to rev up with Hicks jamming and bouncing off other musicians. Then, suddenly, the track begins to fade out. It's hugely frustrating, and a lost opportunity to showcase Hicks' talent – and it's not the first time the album is guilty of scissoring tracks before their time.
Help Me also seems totally out of place as the album's closer. The lazy blues mood drags down the good work that It's Alright set in motion. Once again when the track starts to bubble up in the final minute somebody fiddles with the fade knob, leaving a gaping hole where a stonking finale should be.
Hicks wanted to be the kind of player that had all the riffs and could play anything with anyone. While this may be a good strategy live, songwriting and making an album isn't a one size fits all approach. Harlem ultimately struggles with an identity crisis of bridging the gap between the classic and contemporary, ends up doing neither and leaving us unsure of what his sound actually is. Hicks clearly has the skills, but the production and songwriting let him down.