B. B. KING: 80 (2005)
1) Early In The Morning; 2) Tired Of Your Jive; 3) The Thrill Is Gone; 4) Need Your Love So Bad; 5) Ain't Nobody Home; 6) Hummingbird; 7) All Over Again; 8) Drivin' Wheel; 9) There Must Be A Better World Somewhere; 10) Never Make Your Move Too Soon; 11) Funny How Time Slips Away; 12) Rock This House.
Another jubilee, another batch of boring, uncomfortable duets. But there is an extra kick here, as compared to King's earlier gueststar-studded records: it is rather fun to hear the 80-year old grangrandaddy outsing (nearly always) and outplay (occasionally) most of his guests, including those who had not yet been born when the man was already cutting sides, and who, at this point, are as much «elder statesmen» of popular music as he is, and sometimes more.
I mean, it must have been a pretty cruel joke on King's part to drag Roger Daltrey in the studio: the poor guy sounds completely out of voice, breath, and life-supporting devices trying to outdo his 19-year-older partner on the rough blues verses of 'Never Make Your Move Too Soon', whereas B. B. still delivers those lines almost exactly the same way as he did thirty years earlier. Ditto for Elton John on 'Rock This House', the album's only uptempo number that closes the proceedings on a good-timey retro-Fifties note — but perhaps bringing in Doctor John instead of Elton would have spiced things up in a more amusing manner.
The rest of the duets are not exactly pitiful, but there is nothing on here that would, somehow, confirm that this particular person placed his/her stamp on this particular song for any respectable reason. Most of the people are just wasted — either because, as is often the case, they were only too happy to hide behind the wall of B. B.'s years (if so, why the hell did they join him in the studio at all?), or because, perhaps out of a lack of experience of working with the King, they didn't quite understand what to do and how to do it.
Van Morrison: sings a 12-bar blues tune without any passion at all, perhaps because 12-bar blues is simply not his forté. Billy Gibbons: there is no place for classic ZZ Top irony on a B. B. King song. Eric Clapton: hollow, manneristic soloing on 'Thrill Is Gone', possibly because he is trying to do it King-style — isn't it a little odd, considering that King is playing on the very same track? Sheryl Crow: she can write a good song or two, but crooning the blues? Might as well bring in Madonna. John Mayer: the Big Boring Guitar Hero of our time, adding absolutely nothing to 'Hummingbird' and I am still not sure subtracting how much. Etc. etc.
The only track that might be worth tracking down is the duet with Bobby Bland on 'Funny How Time Slips Away' — unlike most other pairings, the Bland/King collaboration goes back to the mid-Seventies, and the two have a good way of understanding and complementing each other; their «conversation» is simultaneously amusing and touching, justifiedly nostalgic in tone, and does not feel one bit strained.
Everything else does. If it qualifies as a birthday present, it must be one of those «Official Important» presents that so often spoil all the fun at jubilees — you know, getting something very solemn-looking, very expensive, and completely useless. Anybody celebrating his 80th jubilee and still having a recording and performing career is OK in my book at least out of sheer respect (and, while we're at it, King still occasionally smokes and blazes in concert, even if he has to sit rather than stand throughout the whole show); but in this case, it is the man that we want to hear, not his (lack of) interaction with his deliberately or coincidentally wooden partners. I'm sorry, Mr King, but the duets just have to go. Thumbs down.
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