B. B. KING: LIVE IN COOK COUNTY JAIL (1970)
1) Introduction; 2) Everyday I Have The Blues; 3) How Blue Can You Get; 4) Worry, Worry, Worry; 5) 3 O'Clock Blues; 6) Sweet Sixteen; 7) The Thrill Is Gone; 8) Please Accept My Love.
The «live prison album» genre, jump-started by Johnny Cash with his Folsom Prison record in 1968, is not a very large one — not everybody has the guts to win over this particular slice of the audience, let alone all the technical difficulties. Nevertheless, putting out a live prison album almost certainly guarantees critical respect, because, after all, what in the world can be truer to the spirit of rock'n'roll than working up a sweat before a bunch of Cool Hand Lukes, the true heroes of rock'n'roll?
Thus, even though Live In Cook County Jail is by no means King's best live album, it has garnered comparable acclaim; yet that acclaim is, I believe, triggered more by the unforgettable rounds of booing with which the inmates welcome the announcement of the presence of the local sheriff and the chief justice at the start of the show, making up for a classic live moment that really threatens to blow B. B. himself off the stage. Could, in fact, be argued that there is more genuine blues to be heard in those boos than in whatever follows. (Actually, there is a complex back story to the making of the album — apparently, a series of live shows by well-known stars at that jail was part of the new warden's plan to win over the inmates' trust in his ongoing battle with the «barn bosses», even though none of that is reflected in the performance in any way).
What follows is, actually, a very solid performance, but a very straightforward, as well: King understands that these two thousand guys in front of him won't take bullshit for an answer, and so he just runs through his biggest hits, without forcing himself to condense them but without too many improvisational or jamming bits, either. He spans his entire career, from '3 O'Clock Blues' right up to 'Thrill Is Gone', and shows us that the old magic works fine on the current criminals by launching into his usual «man — woman» monolog on 'Worry, Worry' — the audience's response makes it clearly seen that this is the kind of sermon they are quite ready to listen to.
The only other thing I can say is that 'The Thrill Is Gone', like I predicted, works beautifully even without the cellos (but to name it the ultimate live rendition of this song, like some have done, is a bit of a stretch); but overall, there is just too few songs here to merit individual comments — which brings us to the vital question of why the heck has the entire performance not been released on CD as of yet? Surely they do not mean that the whole show lasted for just over half an hour? What is their problem? What are they hiding?