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Monday, July 12, 2010

B. B. King: Lucille

B. B. KING: LUCILLE (1968)

1) Lucille; 2) You Move Me So; 3) Country Girl; 4) No Money, No Luck; 5) I Need Your Love; 6) Rainin' All The Time; 7) I'm With You; 8) Stop Putting The Hurt On Me; 9) Watch Yourself.

Somehow, in between all the mediocre releases and excessive concentration on the live spirit and the fact that, in one short year, the man would make the final mighty crossover with 'The Thrill Is Gone', we all missed the simple truth: Lucille, from (late?) 1968, is the first consistently great studio album to bear B. B. King's name on it. And his guitar's, too, for that matter.

It may not become your favourite, or mine, or the average blues lover's, but it is the first album on which the King is truly, straightforwardly, unequivocally doing the King's thing: not just playing the blues, but also loving it, near-physically, without having to experience coitus interruptus eve­ry two minutes. It's all blues, no venturing into strange territories, and the tunes take as much time as they need to build up, develop, and crash down.

Which, in the case of the title track, is ten minutes — King's first, and fully successful, attempt at bringing down barriers. Of course, his lengthy public declaration of love for his guitar is pom­pous, pretentious, and overblown, but with two decades of hit-making, blues-wailing, and belly-growing behind his back, he has every right to this atmosphere. The little monolog he delivers over the course of the song — as clumsy and clichéd as parts of it are, it's all sincere, and when, after yet another «response» from the guitar, he says "I doubt if you can feel it like I do", there is no reason to think he is just being haughty.

"Lucille don't wanna play nothing but the blues", he says, "if I could sing pop tunes like Frank Si­natra or Sammy Davis Jr., I don't think I still could do it". Sounds pretty blunt, when you start thinking of all those times when the man was forced to sing all those pop tunes — in a way, this is King's declaration of independence. "But I can get a little Frank, a little Sammy, a little Ray Charles in there, in fact, all the people with soul in this", he then adds, so as not to offend the mighty colleagues in show-business — plus, he's kind of right about it, too.

On the other side of the record, King bookmarks the proceedings with six minutes of 'Watch Yourself' (it is mighty faster, though, so the overall number of bars must be pretty much the same as on 'Lucille') — again, the first time we see him truly stretch out in the studio, never letting the ac­companying sax overshadow the playing, going bar over bar inventing new guitar figures on the spot; nothing particularly dazzling in the technical sense, but gives you a great rundown on the man's improvising style.

In between these two peaks of freedom, there's seven lesser, shorter songs that need no individual commenting (and not all of them are equally satisfactory — for instance, Peter Green clearly took 'I Need Your Love So Bad' closer to heart than B. B., who gives it a far more perfunctory rendi­tion), but all of them benefit greatly from this spiritual uplifting that seems to have taken place sometime in mid-1968.

In short, even if, technically, Lucille is just another slab of generic big-band blues, it is still one of the best generic big-band blues albums of 1968, and, no matter how many changes King would later go through, it is here that he is in peak form; 'Lucille' and 'Watch Yourself', at the very least, are required listening for every blue note lover. Thumbs up.

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