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Monday, April 26, 2010

B. B. King: The Great B. B. King


1) Sweet Sixteen; 2) (I'm Gonna) Quit You Baby; 3) I Was Blind; 4) What Can I Do; 5) Someday Baby; 6) Sneakin' Around; 7) I Had A Woman; 8) Be Careful With A Fool; 9) Whole Lot Of Lovin'; 10) Days Of Old.

Back to the blues at least, even if, like most other albums from that period, this is another mish-mash of all kinds of different tracks from all kinds of different years. The selection had been made around exactly one new hit: B. B.'s rendition of 'Sweet Sixteen', originally made popular by Big Joe Turner on Atlantic Records.

Back in 1960, B. B. was no Big Joe when it came to solid body mass (he would catch up pretty soon, though), but, after singing all these spirituals, he was in greater vocal shape than ever, and for this little bit of soap drama, he gives Big Joe quite a run for his money. The only solo on this blues rant takes place at the beginning, and the whole piece runs for over six minutes, covering both sides of the single — but the emphasis is really on the interplay between B. B.'s vocals and the weep and wail of the guitar. Arguably, 'Sweet Sixteen' is the first truly classic B. B. studio re­cording — live, like most other tunes, it would simply become a foundation for passionate instrumental blueswailing, but the studio original has its own modest charm.

The rest of the tracks are mostly blues, although diluted by occasional shades of doo-wop-tinged gospel ('I Was Blind'), doo-wop-tinged lounge entertainment ('Sneakin' Around'), and boogie-wo­ogie ('Days Of Old'). The blues, too, is diversified: on 'Whole Lot Of Lovin', for instance, B. B. tries out some Elmore James (i. e. goes for the 'Dust My Broom' riff), and slow and mid-tempos alternate frequently enough to make one at least notice the in-between song breaks. Plus, as intu­itive as it may sound, he seems to go for sharper, crisper tones, rougher cut-offs and shriller notes, toughening it up for a more demanding audience, perhaps? (Not that I have any idea of the abso­lute chronology of any of those recordings).

If Singin' The Blues was important for being his first, then The Great B. B. King is important for bringing the man back from the mischievous temptation of becoming a crooner or a gospel performer, kicking back into the blues idiom with a vengeance. Thumbs up.

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