B. B. KING: THERE IS ALWAYS ONE MORE TIME (1991)
A modest return to form after two of the man's worst studio albums in a row. With the Eighties over, it became possible to return to nicer production values — the poison-synths and drum machines are gone, replaced by more normal playing. To B. B.'s credit, he would, from now on, be for the most part free of the technophilia bug, meaning that one does not run a serious risk of sticking with something atrocious even when picking up any of his latest albums at random.
The bad news is that King's backing band here is just as faceless as the robots on those Eighties records. Jim Keltner is a solid drummer with an immaculate pedigree, but he is a great addition to an already solid team, not some amazing percussion wizard who can make sticks and stones come alive; the bass player, whoever he is, just plays bass; and the keyboard players, instead of playing decent instruments, rely on those dead-sounding electronic pianos that seemed to have been all the rage in blues-rock around the time (they're still around, of course, but their sound range seems to have at least slightly improved with the passing years). No brass backing whatsoever, for unknown reasons (hard times?). Lucille seems to have been the only living soul on the album, but King uses her sparingly, and even when he does, we have the usual problem — her voice is way too thin to properly arrive at us from behind the keyboard muck.
It's all a pity, because there are some good songs here: most of the album had been written through the collaborative effort of Will Jennings and Joe Sample — the same team that gave him his good stuff during the 1978-79 stint with The Crusaders — and, just like before, their contributions are spotty, but enjoyable. Most importantly, the melodies return that gritty, aggressive feel that King's records from the last decade generally missed. 'I'm Moving On' opens the album on a note of such triumphant decision that, with a better arrangement, the song should have been a triumphant comeback for the old boy, but with those keyboards... eh.
Some of the tracks are fine mood pieces: 'Back In L. A.' is one of those laid back «city of good and evil» anthems that can be either cheap cliché mixes or inspired new takes on the old thing, and I'd vote for the latter; 'The Blues Come Over Me' certifiedly does have the blues come over him (and somebody gives him a bit of proper piano backing, for once!); and 'Mean And Evil' is simply fun — the big man is always at his best when putting the blame on his woman. That's what all big men manage to do best of all, anyway.
But clearly, the magnum opus here is the title track, written by and dedicated to the late Doc Pomus, the second-rate genius (well, not all great somgwriters can be first-rate) behind lots of classic R&B hits and drunken Dr. John rave-ups. Although King tends to sing well throughout the whole album, this particular performance is obviously and understandably his most emotional, and it's got what the rest of the album don't got — a grand rippin' guitar solo at the end, with Jim Keltner finally latching on to something of value and showing why they made a good choice in inviting him to the sessions.
Most people will probably shrug their shoulders upon reading King's "This is the best album I've recorded in my career" in the liner notes, and start looking around for invisible ink traces of "...since the previous one". Perhaps, though, it was not merely a trivial marketing move: the cool thing about King is, he's always lived for the moment, and it may simply mean that, while recording One More Time, he'd simply forgotten about — or, perhaps, intentionally stripped himself of — all memories of past experiences. Who knows, maybe that's the sort of thing that allows him to live up to 80+ years and not feel worried about it. Fact is, he doesn't really feel like he's 66 years old on here. And I feel fine, too, about giving this a thumbs up, despite the undeniable blandness of the sound — and the simple truth that this is, of course, not the best album he's recorded in his career. Come to think of it, what's he ever done to tell his listeners what is best and what is worst? Who does he think he is — Stephen Thomas Erlewine?
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