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Monday, December 6, 2010

B. B. King: Blues Summit


1) Playin’ With My Friends; 2) Since I Met You Baby; 3) I Pity The Fool; 4) You Shook Me; 5) Something You Got; 6) There’s Something On Your Mind; 7) Little By Little; 8) Stormy Monday; 9) You’re The Boss; 10) We’re Gonna Make It; 11) I Gotta Move Out Of This Neighborhood/Nobody Loves Me But My Mother; 12) Everybody’s Had The Blues.

You know for sure that something is not right when, all of a sudden, the king does not show up any more without laying his head on the shoulders of his courtiers. B. B. had enjoyed an occasio­nal duet or two in the past, but starting in the early Nineties, he switched to duet mode on an al­most full-time basis. It might not even have been for money reasons, more for the psychological factor: all of these stars, young and old, getting together and paying homage to the one and only would automatically mean that the one and only was still the one and only.

From a purely technical point of view, Blues Summit is unbeatable. King sings, Lucille wails, and the guests range from forgotten, but still venerable has-beens (Ruth Brown, Irma Thomas) to grizzly old veterans who only get better with age (Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker) to newer stars with plenty of potential (Robert Cray). The songs are diverse enough — from pure 12-bar to boo­gie blues to R’n’B — and some of the numbers bravely go over five, six, seven minutes to let the agents show their full force.

From a more feelings-based point of view, Blues Summit is excruciatingly stiff, lifeless, and bo­ring. All of these guests know perfectly well what they are there for — to tip their hat to the big man — and the matters of courtesy and politeness consistently take over matters of excitement and emotionality. This album is not another stop on B. B.’s own journey, it’s a set of five-minute detours on everybody else’s journeys to take a look at the old curio man. A fun project, but essen­tially meaningless: glitzy blues free of true soul, but full of gross mannerisms, best illustrated by the forced «sobbing» on the re-recording of ‘Nobody Loves Me But My Mother’.

There are some excellent bits of guitar interplay, though, particularly on the Albert Collins duet (‘Stormy Monday’) and the Joe Louis Walker one (‘Everybody’s Had The Blues’); on the other hand, the numbers with Buddy Guy (a clumsily choreographed ‘I Pity The Fool’) and John Lee Hooker (‘You Shook Me’, with annoyingly overacted stuttering from Hooker) are almost com­pletely wasted. Lots of ladies add generically powerful urban blues vocals to five of the tracks, with disastrous effect — they all try to match King’s singing style so closely that it is almost impossible to distinguish Katie Webster from Koko Taylor, or Etta James from Irma Thomas, even though in real life they all have significantly different personalities.

If this review read like a typical blurb out of the All-Music Guide, it is because Blues Summit is exactly the kind of album for which the All-Music Guide has been invented: a huge credits list from which to draw on trivia, and zero artistic significance that makes it a great target for the «You’d think that... but then again, no» formula. And an AMG-style review deserves an AMG-style closing line — how about this: «As far as we can tell, B. B. King has regained his regalia, at the expense of relinquishing his relevance».

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