B. B. KING: DEUCES WILD (1997)
1) If You Love Me; 2) The Thrill Is Gone; 3) Rock Me Baby; 4) Please Send Me Someone To Love; 5) Baby I Love You; 6) Ain't Nobody Home; 7) Pauly's Birthday Boogie; 8) There Must Be A Better World Somewhere; 9) Confessin' The Blues; 10) Hummingbird; 11) Bring It On Home To Me; 12) Paying The Cost To Be The Boss; 13) Let The Good Times Roll; 14) Dangerous Mood; 15) Crying Won't Help You; 16) Night Life.
King's second duets album in a row — third, actually, if one counts Lucille & Friends from 1995, which looks like a compilation of previously released and unreleased tracks from multiple sessions — would seem to confirm the suspicion that he had completely relegated himself to «elder sideman» status, forever satisfied with selling his records on the strength of other people's names. But at least he is getting better at it: Deuces Wild is a far more interesting record than Blues Summit, for a number of reasons.
First, the guest list is more diverse and, in places, unpredictable. It is no surprise, and hardly a guarantee of success, to see Eric Clapton or the entirety of the Rolling Stones sucking up to the King — but what about Van Morrison or Willie Nelson? Dave Gilmour on second guitar? Jools Holland and his honky-tonk? Ex-Roxy Music guy Paul Carrack? Let's face it, there ain't a single professional musician in this world that would seriously mind having a go at it with the King himself, and this time around, the King took notice and expanded his formerly tight list of generic blues friends so much that at least a few interesting things were bound to happen. And, of course, a few boring or ugly ones, but when you're being random like that, it's heads or tails all over again with each new track.
Highlights: 'If You Love Me', a Van Morrison song written and sung by Van Morrison while B. B. produces moody background in the background. Sweet. Tracy Chapman's weirdly wobbly vocals on 'The Thrill Is Gone', offering yet another spirited reinvention of the song. Bizarre. 'Pauly's Birthday Boogie' with Jools Holland — instrumental jump-blues from days long gone by, the King rocking us back to the innocent days of the 1950s. Nostalgic. 'Hummingbird' — nobody needs to be a huge fan of Dionne Warwick, but the song had always called for a female performance, and she is more than adequate on supporting her man out here. Romantic. 'Night Life' — Willie Nelson makes this clichéd old standard sound nicely personal again: you can't go wrong, anyway, with the most intelligent-sounding voice in country music lending it extra credence. Smart.
Lowlights: neither Clapton nor Jagger are at their best, the former taking all due precautions not to outplay the master and ending up sounding bland (the same problem that also marred the duo's full-fledged collaboration, Riding With The King), and the latter not really having sounded all that impressive on any 12-bar blues numbers since at least 1966 or so (I mean, the Stones' rendition of 'Stop Breaking Down' is astoundingly great, but purely because of its guitar sound, not due to the vocals). There is also a silly rap number with Heavy D somewhere out there that does not justify its existence — you don't do rap when you're 72 years old; trust me, there are much better ways to show the young 'uns you're in real great shape.
The rest fluctuates somewhere in the middle (Bonnie Raitt is good, Joe Cocker not so good, Marty Stuart and Zucchero make me yawn, Mick Hucknall nearly outsings the man, etc.), still enough to keep things slightly above average and, in general, justify this duet format. It does not seem so much a question of gelling — they all get in the swing easy enough — as it is a question of refreshing: for every guest that honestly brings stuff to the table, there is another one that only takes from it. Still a thumbs up — after the stiffness of Blues Summit, this one is the epitome of liveliness in comparison. Particular thanks should probably go to veteran producer John Porter — either for doing things right, or for staying out of the way long enough to make them come right, I don't exactly know which.
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