B. B. KING: MIDNIGHT BELIEVER (1978)
1) When It All Comes Down (I'll Still Be Around); 2) Midnight Believer; 3) I Just Can't Leave Your Love Alone; 4) Hold On (I Feel Our Love Is Changing); 5) Never Make A Move Too Soon; 6) A World Full Of Strangers; 7) Let Me Make You Cry A Little Longer.
Another excellent idea — match B. B. King, the tumbleweed connection of the blues world, with The Crusaders, one of the longest living jazz-pop bands that never had any reason to live that long. Together, they make good music: the band offers the old blues guru guy fat and tight musical backing, and the old blues guru guy pays them back with his regular lyrical spark that, for a moment, adds sense and purpose to their interplay. (Coincidentally or not, they released their biggest commercial success, Street Life, the following year, but I have never been able to get my mind focused on even one track on that album from beginning to end.)
Most of the material is original, written by The Crusaders themselves or in collaboration with Will Jennings, and follows the regular R'n'B patterns of the epoch (without any serious concessions to disco), but is very clearly geared towards King: all the blues and ballad pieces fit his style of singing, and there is also surprisingly more guitar playing from him on all the songs than even on some of his pure blues albums (where «pure», much more often than wanted, means «letting the horns guys do all the work while I satisfy my inner crooner»).
The two regular blues-rock numbers ('When It All Comes Down', 'Never Make A Move Too Soon') are fun due to all the extra touches — such as the gospel choir on the former and the loose party attitude on the latter; the sentimental ballad ('Hold On') is respectably arranged, with Lucille always louder than the soft lethargic Seventies piano sound; the funk comes properly equipped with clenched teeth and gripped fists ('A World Full Of Strangers'); and the retro-swing number 'I Just Can't Leave Your Love Alone' simply comes out of nowhere, suddenly replacing the disco bar with a speakeasy for four happy minutes.
It wouldn't make sense to rave and rant in detail about any of these songs, but the participants are clearly delighted to work with each other — and, even if unbeatable clinchers like 'Thrill Is Gone' could not be produced any longer, this is still the next best thing: a B. B. King album whose production and entertainment values are so consistently high, I could never sustain a case against even one of these songs. It is albums like Midnight Believer that should encourage you, the listener, to defy the odds and dig around in interminable discographies of «has-beens»: critics may eventually lose interest in the old dogs and leave them forever locked in the one-star collar, but that's just because they always go after the cutting-edge thing. Midnight Believer cuts no edges; it is simply a charming album that shows old man King going both with the grain and against it at the same time. Thumbs up.
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