At 78 years old, Elizabeth King is releasing her debut full-length album. Living in the Last Days connects the past and future of Memphis’ “sacred soul” scene. King fronted Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls in the 1970s, one of the few women to lead an all-male band and a remarkable career path for someone who’d survived a devastating car accident. After stepping away from music in the 1980s to raise her 15 children, she returns now to sing the 11 songs on Living in the Last Days from a place of authority.
The album, released by Bible & Tire Recording Co., begins with a humble palm-muted bass line paired with King’s rich, life-worn voice. Before long, “No Ways Tired” erupts with fervor and passion, with the entire band of celebrated Memphis players bursting at the seams with triumph in the face of adversity. In King’s case, the song feels like a statement of pride in a life well lived, and in finding satisfaction in the wonderful opportunities she’s been presented with.
Whatever the listener’s religious inclinations, Last Days will hit close to home — particularly after the past year. The title track takes the apocalyptic horror of the past few years and transforms it into millennial (in the original sense) joy. Right may be wrong, or wrong may be right, but that means we are simply getting closer and closer to liberation.
Meanwhile, “A Long Journey” falls into that murky territory of religious poetry that slides between secular and sacred interpretations. The song’s funky drum shuffle and catchy wah-wah guitar licks might lead some to the kind of hip-shaking that church elders tend to frown upon.
Amidst an album layered with luscious sounds, “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” stands out as an a cappella song. Here, King’s voice is featured front and center, as strong and vibrant as ever. The production brings gospel music to its roots, a tradition that is meant to focus on the lyrics, and songs that can be performed anywhere. King’s emotional resonance with the lyrics is obvious here, and she invites us to join in.
It’s worth noting that King is backed by some of Memphis’s greatest musicians: guitarist Will Sexton (Dale Watson, Nicki Bluhm, Amy LaVere), drummer George Sluppick (Albert King, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Jake LaBotz), guitarist Matt Ross-Spang (Al Green, Jason Isbell, John Prine), bassist Mark Edgar Stuart (Alvin Youngblood Hart), and organist Al Gamble (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, The Hold Steady, Don Bryant, Alex Chilton). King is backed on vocals by family friends Christopher and Courtney Barnes, who perform as The Sensational Barnes Brothers.
With so much greatness rolled into 11 songs, Living in the Last Days will inspire emotions in any listener. Whether or not these are truly the last days, the themes suggest that our problems in 2021 reflect those of the people who have come before us and the ones who will come after. But there will always be music to comfort us and empower us to carry on.