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Monday, September 6, 2010

B. B. King: To Know You Is To Love You


1) I Like To Live The Love; 2) Respect Yourself; 3) Who Are You; 4) Love; 5) I Can't Leave; 6) To Know You Is To Love You; 7) Oh To Me; 8) Thank You For Loving The Blues.

Little known, little appreciated, To Know You is still B. B. King's juiciest attempt at an almost proper R'n'B album, with an absolute minimum of 12-bar and lots of rhythm. Recorded with the Memphis horns and the Philly rhythm section, this was done at the exactly right time, with B. B.'s competitor Albert King riding a similar brand of sound with albums like I'll Play The Blues For You and I Wanna Get Funky. Well, B. B. ended up wanting to get funky, too.

For the first time in a long, long while, if not ever, even those tracks on which King plays very little, if any, guitar, are perfectly enjoyable — just for the simple joy of listening to all these mu­sicians gelling so perfectly, the bass, drums, rhythm guitars, keyboards, and horns whirling like freshly-oiled cogs in one of the world's smoothest-running musical machines. And when the big man starts to play, Lucille's sound is giving a smoother, slicker coating than usual, which is per­fectly all right with this kind of ambience (although it would probably not work at all on some­thing like Completely Well).

The obvious hit, highlight, and constant presence in the Church of the Latter Day Compilations, is the title track, written for King by Stevie Wonder himself (and, once you know that, you will realize that B. B.'s singing, too, is tentatively following Stevie's usual vocal modulations — per­haps it would have worked even better as a duet between the two). It is soulful, passionate, reli­gious, and quite long, allowing it to work both as a moving love song and as a hot, pristine jam instead of failing at both; every single player shines like the sun.

It may be impossible to outdo the Staple Singers at their cut-out job, but the King still does his best at bringing a comparable amount of sincerity and conviction into his singing, and carves out a suitable weeping set of riffs for Lucille. 'I Like To Live The Love', the record's other hit, has no lead guitar at all and is happy enough to function within the generic dance-pop formula of the first half of the decade — could, perhaps, benefit from an Al Green at the helm rather than the relatively rugged delivery of old man B. B., but it is still a charming song, and not entirely grit­less, either, if only for the iron groove that has it locked in its grip from first to last second.

'I Can't Leave' is the only song that reverts us fully to the standard 12-bar blues-de-luxe formula, but in the overall context it blends in well (what other B. B. King album could be said to contain one generic blues song for the sake of diversity?), and then there is also a traditional spoken blues piece at the end that thanks us for loving the blues and slowly melts away in a hushed, minimalis­tic jam with some of the most subtle passages in B. B.'s career.

It all works, and once again goes to show just how greatly a super-professional R'n'B band and a brilliant blues guitarist can complement each other. Now if only somebody had, at least once, thought to finish off the picture by bringing in a genius songwriter and a mindblowing singer... but, possibly, so many cooks would have killed off the broth. Let us be happy with what we have and hope that the album, only recently restored in print, will eventually solidify in its classic sta­tus. Thumbs up and a must-have for any fan of Seventies' R&B (not so sure about hardcore blues lovers, though — but let us not forget that B. B. King as such is hardly music for blues purists).

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