The Final Kent Years brings to a close Ace's three-volume presentation of the complete 60s and 70s recordings waxed by Lowell Fulson for the Bihari brothers' Los Angeles-based Kent and Big Town labels. Black Nights (CDCHD 804) traced this memorable alliance from its 1964 beginning with those well-crafted early blues singles. There was much contribution from manager-songwriter Ferdinand "Fats" Washington together with West Coast R&B icon Maxwell Davis, who was in his final glory as arguably LA's greatest studio force in his field. The 'Tramp' Years (CDCHD 755) continued through Lowell's rejuvenation on the charts as a funkster and link in the musical food chain to hip-hop. Here, The Final Kent Years reprises Lowell's last two albums for the family combine, his last Kent single and three more recently unearthed tunes.
The first major component of the set is the "Now!" LP, which made a typical Bihari trek through a series of cheapie labels after its Kent debut. This album largely takes us to the end of Lowell's main run with the company in 1968. Though "Now!" attracted no great notice at the time, and it was Lowell's only Kent LP not framed around a hit, it holds up very well. The brassy, ornate tracks have energetic performances by Lowell as big as the orchestrations-.-the stripped-down outings show Lowell close to his roots with frequent gospel tinges-.-his take on the covers is fresh and spirited. Throughout, the recently resurgent Arthur Adams's outstanding input as a guitarist, and as co-author of the shuffling dance anthem Push Me (probably a reflection of Adams's time on the Dallas "Push club" circuit that spawned Anson Funderburgh), takes the proceedings to another level. Five worthy loose ends from the period, including the last Kent single, provide a point of departure for the nine-year gap (with stints at Jewel and Granite) before Lowell's return to the Bihari fold.
"Lovemaker" was the one-off product of a February 1978 outing under the auspices of indie vet George Mottola. It originally appeared, like "Now!", to no discernible fanfare, on Big Town. While probably a low budget project of modest pretensions and not an essential in many LP piles, "Lovemaker" is nonetheless a good, solid, straight-ahead blues excursion. The band is basic and Lowell gets a goodly share of the guitar spotlight. Amid some standards which underscore Lowell's longtime affinity for Tampa Red, Lowell's originals tend toward midtempo blues, notably Bending Like A Willow Tree (covered by Albert Collins) and My Mind Is Trying To Leave Me, attributed to Lowell and his good friend Percy Mayfield and also revived by Collins.
Lowell went on to cut a number of fine albums for American, Canadian and European labels before his death at Long Beach CA on 7 March 1999. With these three Ace CDs, we have his 1964-78 Bihari catalogue to revisit with unprecedented depth, sound quality and convenience. It represents as full a spectrum as any such teaming could of the dimensions of Lowell Fulson's blues mastery, surrounded by quality writers, producers, arrangers and musicians. The association ranks with Lowell's most definitive and successful epochs, prolific and, in bursts, profitable. The Final Kent Years rounds out four hours of some of the most elemental and enjoyable reminders of what a resilient, flexible and passionately expressive great Lowell Fulson was.
By Dick Shurman