B. B. KING: INDIANOLA MISSISSIPPI SEEDS (1970)
1) Nobody Loves Me But My Mother; 2) You're Still My Woman; 3) Ask Me No Questions; 4) Until I'm Dead And Cold; 5) King's Special; 6) Ain't Gonna Worry My Life Anymore; 7) Chains And Things; 8) Go Underground; 9) Hummingbird.
Going on in the right direction — the album may seem like either a carbon copy of Completely Well or a masterful expansion on its strong sides, depending on one's overall attitude towards B. B. King's «crossover era», but it's enjoyable in either case. This time around, Szymczyk teamed the man with an even huger throng of pop people, not the least of them Carole King herself, who does not contribute to the songwriting, but plays a steady R'n'B-ish piano on more than half of the tracks; second and third on the bill are Joe Walsh and Leon Russell, and you are well encouraged to do more research on the credits yourself — there's a ton of different people here.
Everything works, right from the start, as B. B. in person plays some mighty fine Delta blues chords on the electric piano, singing "nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving too" — for one minute and twenty seconds, before the whole band crashes into a rocking performance of 'You're Still My Woman'. An unsubtle way to remind us that the King still remembers his roots, but necessary, perhaps, since the rest of the album takes us pretty far away from the Delta in form, and it may require a little refreshening to make us well aware that it is still firmly rooted in the Delta in spirit.
Szymczyk may be overdoing the strings thing at times — now that the gimmick worked so well on 'Thrill Is Gone', he keeps the small orchestra in tow on a constant basis, ready to jump out and contribute each time B. B. switches into ballad mode, and sometimes even beyond that. That said, Jimmie Haskell's arrangements are modest and never get in the way of more important things — on 'You're Still My Woman', they not only do not overshadow the star of the show, but they even leave plenty of space for Carole King to show that she could always earn her living playing the honky-tonk thing in blues bars in the unlikely situation that the royalties were to run out.
The jamming is kept under stricter control this time: there is a five-minute instrumental, 'King's Special', with a brilliant guitar-piano duel between B. B. and Leon Russell, and a short bit of fooling around opens 'Ain't Gonna Worry My Life Anymore', but, overall, meandering improvs are eskewed in favor of lengthier solo bits on regular songs, which keeps the general customer better satisfied without alienating the artistically demanding audience either.
The only downside is that a couple of tracks, most notably 'Chains And Things', are an obvious attempt to recreate the success of 'Thrill Is Gone' — but, obviously, you cannot artificially recreate divine inspiration, and so the album remains without that ultimate megaton-kicker to push it over the threshold that separates «best-of-the-best» from «better-than-the-best». Leon Russell offers another chance with his own 'Hummingbird', a song that goes from darkly romantic blues ballad to all-out gospel choir anthem, and everything is splendid except that King has no guitar solos on the number, which prevents it from falling into the category of «B. B. King songs one cannot do without» — in my eyes at least, you can easily do without any B. B. King song on which Lucille gets a square treatment.
Yet these are minor quibbles. King himself, on occasion, has stated that Indianola might have been his biggest artistic statement, and, without being petty about all the details, it is easy to understand that opinion. The man was clearly on a roll: surrounded by great musicians and songwriters, a producer who understood how to update his old sound for the new age without compromising it, and enough creative freedom to revel in, he was clearly having the greatest time of his life, much like his namesake Albert, whose career was also peaking around the same years — a great time for the rejuvenation of classic electric blues. Thumbs up, of course.