B. B. KING: BLUES ON TOP OF BLUES (1968)
1) Heartbreaker; 2) Losing Faith In You; 3) Dance With Me; 4) That's Wrong Little Mama; 5) Having My Say; 6) I'm Not Wanted Anymore; 7) Worried Dream; 8) Paying The Cost To Be The Boss; 9) Until I Found You; 10) I'm Gonna Do What They Do To Me; 11) Raining In My Heart; 12) Now That You've Lost Me.
At first, this seems decent; at the very least, much better than King's unhappy debut for ABC five years earlier (and, odd as it is, only his third studio album in five years altogether; Confessin' The Blues from 1967 was the second one, but it is almost impossible to find these days, and not very relevant either, since it was one of those lame attempts to get B. B. by on the strength of his voice alone, replacing Lucille with horns and strings).
The problem is, without particularly serious concentration on the numbers, I caught myself realizing that I did not notice that much guitar on this record, either. All the songs feature big band arrangements, led by Johnny Pate, and for each of these numbers that rarely go over three minutes, King gets lots of singing, but only a few bars of soloing. When you do get to hear the notes, they are as crisp as it gets, showcasing his polished and improved sound from the late Sixties, but you will not get the chance too often.
The material, as expected, veers between straightforward 12-bar and explorations in closely connected territory, e. g. Lonnie Johnson-style balladry ('Losing Faith In You') and danceable blues-rock ('That's Wrong Little Mama', guessable as a response to 'That's Alright Mama'). The lead single was 'Paying The Cost To Be The Boss', probably the correct choice since it hits the harshest (without adding much that we did not know about the man, of course). The second single was 'I'm Gonna Do What They Do To Me', probably the correct choice since it hits the second harshest (without adding much that we did not know about 'Paying The Cost To Be The Boss').
In its historical context, however, the album sounds hopelessly dated even by the standards of 1968. The record is made in strict accordance with the same old rules: short songs, big horns, modest solos, a complete lack of exploration. Its only saving grace is the clean, modern-sounding production, but if you listen to blues for clarity of sound rather than force of expression, you'd better stick to the likes of Robert Cray.