B. B. KING: SIX SILVER STRINGS (1985)
Not many kind words can be applied to this album, but one thing definitely makes it worth checking out. If you glance at the track list, you will naturally expect track two, 'Big Boss Man', to be B. B. King's professional, but most likely uninspiring rendition of Jimmy Reed's old blues classic. Few things in this world can be more confusing, then, than getting around to it and hearing the easily recognizable dance beats and piano rhythms of... Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean'. Trust me, there is something transcendental about the experience. Absurdist to the core, and yet completely unintentional at the same time. One of those classic moments in the history of human ridiculousness that almost ends up justifying it.
Unfortunately, only if most of this album matched the silliness standard of 'Big Boss Jean', would there be some decent reason to talk about it. As it is, King's 50th album, as it so gloriously states on the golden seal of the front cover, is a pretty gloomy affair. After the stark retro approach of Blues'n'Jazz, B. B. moves into the opposite direction: the Eighties bug finally caught up with the man, and, with a couple of exceptions that might have been outtakes from earlier sessions ('My Guitar Sings The Blues'), all of this suffers from typical overproduction — plastic electronic drums, synthesizers, etc., and an almost complete dehumanization of the playing: King's vocals and guitar are your only friends throughout, and do they ever feel lonely.
It is quite ironic that the material itself is not half-bad: old standards like Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour', under normal conditions, would agree with King's style perfectly, and there are some fine new songs, too — the title track and 'Memory Lane' are touching nostalgic ballads; 'My Lucille' is one of those honest anthems to B. B.'s primary working tool that can do no wrong; and even corny arena rock like 'Into The Night', given the proper treatment, could have given King a serious chance to tame the genre (the song was written and recorded specially for the soundtrack of John Landis' flop movie of the same name, and it's probably the best thing about the movie, even if that's hardly saying much).
But, over the years, it has emerged fairly clearly that, unless one indiscriminately finds all B. B. King albums equally exchangeable in terms of general goodness, a B. B. King album is really only as good as the individual talents whose songwriting, producing, and playing matches King's own; and Six Silver Strings, instead of The Crusaders or Dr. John or Joe Walsh at least, has the man surrounded by faceless, if friendly, hacks. Certainly, he has to be commended for succumbing to crap values so late in his career — his namesake Albert, in comparison, had been overwhelmed and overpowered since at least 1976 — but that is hardly relevant to the overall thumbs down that Six Silver Strings deserves on its own.
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