BOBBY BLAND & B. B. KING: TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME... LIVE (1975)
1) 3 O'Clock Blues; 2) It's My Own Fault; 3) Driftin' Blues; 4) That's The Way Love Is; 5) I'm Sorry; 6) I'll Take Care Of You; 7) Don't Cry No More; 8) Don't Answer The Door; 9) Medley; 10) Why I Sing The Blues; 11) Goin' Down Slow; 12) I Like To Live The Love.
Technically, this record should have probably been filed under «B. B. King»: B. B. is officially given first billing on the set, and besides, he plays and sings, whereas Bobby, unfortunately, never took the time to properly master an instrument — not even a tambourine. But since B. B.'s discography is so much more vast anyway, we will bring in some balance and give Bobby extra credit. He sure needs more credit from us than B. B. does, anyway.
This is a beautiful little sprawling double LP, recorded in one take in some cheap sleazy L. A. bar (correction: actually, at Western Recorders, Studio 1, but, allegedly, the audience was real, and rowdy enough to suggest that they did mask the studio as a cheap sleazy bar) — much of it improvised and almost all of it without any serious pre-planning or rehearsal. It got panned by Rolling Stone upon release and continues, out of subconscious respect for tradition, to garner cool reprimands from mainstream-os: the All-Music Guide review mumbles something about the atmosphere being «too relaxed» and a lack of flying sparks — as if they were expecting the Dead Kennedys or something. For Christ's sake, these guys are public entertainers: their job has always been to entertain, and, having gotten together, this is what they do at twice the effort and twice the effect. Despite the critics, the album sold real well, and in this particular case, I am completely on the side of the buying public.
On the technical side, nothing is new. The setlist is comprised mainly of those songs that were already big hits or personal favorites of B. B.'s or Bobby's — it is rather symbolic that they open with ʽ3 O'Clock Bluesʼ, which was the very first commercially successful recording for King in 1952. The singing and playing are exactly what you would expect from both gentlemen circa 1975 (you may set your expectations pretty high, but no particular surprises). And the «novelty» of the «together for the first time» announcement will, of course, be dampened for everybody who knows that B. B. and Bobby spent an awful lot of time together in the 1950s as the «Beale Street Boys» in Memphis. They may be recording for the first time together, but they gel like old pals — because they are old pals.
And this is, of course, the cornerstone of the album's charm. Even if it is a commercial project, it has all the trappings of a loose, free-flowing, informal party — just two guys showing off before each other and a bunch of friends, cocky but amicable. Almost every track has them shooting off insider jokes at each other, trading funny (or not so funny) one-liners and offside remarks, and, overall, having a great time — or at least simulating a great time so well that I honestly couldn't tell it for the real thing.
True enough, there is very little «blues» here if what you want is serious heart tension rather than a friendly party environment. The atmosphere only gets bleak and smoky maybe just a couple of times — for instance, when they put a temporary stop to the banter as Bobby launches into a heartbroken rendition of ʽI'll Take Care Of Youʼ: then, almost as if they simultaneously realized that things are getting too «heavy», just as the last note of the song is sprung, they launch into the uptempo, uplifting ʽDon't Cry No Moreʼ to compensate. The other track where they try to go over the head of the «party mood» is ʽGoin' Down Slowʼ, with a mighty build-up towards the end — but the show is still brought to a final stop with ʽI Like To Live The Loveʼ, a recent hit for B. B. that has nothing for you but one hundred percent positive vibrations.
And there is nothing wrong with that. "Some people say that the kind of blues we're getting into now are ʽslick bluesʼ", B. B. remarks as they wind up ʽI'm Sorryʼ, "and I don't think so, I think they're just telling it like it is", and there certainly is a serious slice of truth to that remark. In 1975, both of these guys were respectable stars (if not superstars), with plenty of reputation, public acclaim, and money to spare — so would a tense, tragically-flavored performance, floating in misery and anger, be «telling it like it is»? What they do here, in addition to being professionally performed and recorded, is all perfectly natural, a fine document of their time that, even today, will make for terrific evening party accompaniment. Thumbs up, totally.
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