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Monday, May 6, 2013

Bobby Bland & B. B. King: Together Again... Live


1) Let The Good Times Roll; 2) Stormy Monday Blues / Strange Things Happen; 3) Feel So Bad; 4) Mother-In-Law Blues / Mean Old World; 5) Everyday (I Have The Blues); 6) The Thrill Is Gone / I Ain't Gonna Be The First One To Cry.

With the unexpected commercial success of Bobby and B.B.'s benefit, it was only a matter of time before we would see the formula repeated, and here we are: recorded at the Coconut Grove in L.A. on an unspecified date in 1976, this time, before a larger audience, in a less intimate fa­shion, and in a shortened format: only a single LP that focuses on lengthy, semi-improvised work­outs and medleys rather than a representative selection from the catalog.

The problem is that the setting has irrevocably changed. First Time was, indeed, the first time, an unpredictable attempt at getting themselves captured in a natural, loose, relaxed environment. Two years later, what we have is a firmly established, commercially-footed «star duet» that be­haves appropriately: the friendly stage banter is cut short and, where it is still preserved, feels more theatrical and forced, the performed songs include big hits (they did not see it fit to perform ʽThe Thrill Is Goneʼ on their first record, but they almost feel obliged to do it now), and, worst of all, both the playing and the singing (particularly the playing) feel even lazier than before — as if the stars were confident now that the people in the audience are there to just look at them sharing the stage together. Well, they do make an impressive pair, sight-wise, that has to be admitted.

Arguably, the major highlight is Chuck Willis' ʽFeel So Badʼ, derailing the proceedings from the restrictive blues patterns in favor of a little spirited syncopation and allowing Bobby to whip him­self up into his trademark frenzy — because, frankly speaking, stuff like ʽLet The Good Times Rollʼ is far better suited to B.B.'s self-contented, round-bellied mode of bellowing than Bobby's subtler-soulful style. This is eight minutes of first-rate hot groovin', and I sure wish the entire re­cord would be like that instead of giving us yet another version of ʽStormy Monday Bluesʼ (what could they possibly do with it that we do not know by heart already?) or ʽEveryday I Have The Bluesʼ, which usually works well as a brief show opener to give the audience a quick initial work­over, but here is made into a completely autonomous and overlong performance.

Admittedly, ʽThe Thrill Is Goneʼ gets an inventive bit of reworking: first, they play out a «shy­ness» scene, with B. B. expressing «doubts» about whether they should be cutting the song, then, once the band is in full swing, Bobby starts wooing the audience, getting a «Viola Jackson» lady to take over the lead on one verse — talk about a master class in simulating spontaneity. But in any case, the song never works well with a host of cooks minding the broth — it is essentially a very intimate chamber piece, and switching vocals between B. B., Bobby, and an out-of-the-blue guest vocalist, no matter how gifted, is a corny idea in the first place.

Little surprise, in the end, that the record generally gets much more of a critical thrashing than its predecessor, and, as far as I know, did not at all sell comparably well — bringing an understan­dable halt to the franchise. It may still be worth a listen (I do not see how a well-recorded live album by B. B. and Bobby could even theoretically be a «total catastrophe» — unless they per­manently switch to hip-hop duets or something), but, er, well, «the thrill is gone», I guess.

Check "Together Again... Live" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Together Again... Live" (MP3) on Amazon

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