B. B. KING: SPOTLIGHT ON LUCILLE (1986)
1) Slidin' And Glidin'; 2) Blues With B. B.; 3) King Of Guitar; 4) Jump With B. B.; 5) 38th Street Blues; 6) Feedin' The Rock; 7) Just Like A Woman; 8) Step It Up; 9) Calypso Jazz; 10) Easy Listening Blues; 11) Shoutin' The Blues; 12) Powerhouse.
It should be mentioned here that, for at least a few decades since B. B.'s original departure from RPM Records in 1962, that label, along with its legal inheritors, had been steadily pumping out further product, carefully measuring out small chunks of whatever Lucille's old fiancée happened to leave behind in the vaults before the move. The result is something like five or seven or ten or twelve (nobody really knows except for the most well-educated of B. B.'s discographers, and they are all dangerous people) LPs that nobody has any real reason to hear, let alone write about; his original official RPM output was always inconsistent, so what's to be said about outtakes?
Spotlight On Lucille may be deemed a valuable exception, though. Released in 1986, it deceptively sported a quite contemporary photo of the man, possibly duping quite a few fans into thinking they were paying money for B. B.'s latest greatest. Well, they weren't, and what a good thing that was: instead of getting another patchy bunch of crappy Eighties product, they were in for a real treat — with the spotlight on Lucille, indeed, this is a collection of instrumentals, mostly recorded around 1960-61. Only a few of them had been previously released.
If something like Easy Listening Blues, King's earliest completely instrumental album, was only so-so because the master sessions failed to extract the proper effort from the man, Spotlight has the compilation benefit. It seems to have been assembled with enough love for the man's talent to include not just any instrumentals with Lucille on top, but those where the playing really mattered. The surprising highlight, for instance, is a ten-minute long jam ('Blues With B. B.') that proves, once and for all, that King did go for long improvisatory jams in those days; he just could not dream of being able to put them on record, what with the 12 songs/3 minutes each reservations that kept American popular music stalled for so long.
Of course, these were still the early days; B. B. had not yet significantly increased his number of guitar tones, had not fully mastered the art of vibrato, had not learned to flash his minimalistic style at the listener. But he was already well-versed in many kinds of playing styles, and Spotlight takes good care reminding us of the fact that he was not merely an expressive 12-bar stylist ('Slidin' And Glidin', 'King Of Guitar'), but that he loved to boogie ('38th Street Blues'), shuffle ('Feedin' The Rock'), bop ('Just Like A Woman'), rhumba ('Calypso Jazz'), and do big-band jazz with the boys ('Powerhouse').
A few of the instrumentals feature brass solos from the band as well, which is not a problem — the balance is near-ideal, with the brass offering occasionally necessary relief from Lucille's never changing high-pitched tone, but never ever letting us forget who is really the man in charge. And B. B. is truly in charge throughout, contributing remarkably similar, but never quite identical solos. The ten-minute long jam is not a masterpiece, but it may really be one of the few, if not the only, historical trace of the man taking as much time as he wanted to develop a musical idea back in the early Sixties, and officially released lengthy blues jams from 1960 may be counted on the fingers of one hand — for all we know, one might think blues jamming as such was invented in the UK of 1965 and 1966 rather than where you'd actually expect it to happen.
In short, this, rather than the miserably modernized Six Silver Strings, should have been B. B.'s proper 50th album — these days, it sounds far more fresh and far less dated than everything the man was recording in 1986 in person. Thumbs up.
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