Friday, May 15, 2015

The Best of B.B. King: The Millenium Collection

The announcement yesterday of the death at 89 of the great B.B. King takes away one of the last of that generation of classic blues performers.  King's piercing, keening and sharp soloing and that slightly husky and emotive singing style are among the most easily recognizable in music over the last fifty plus years.

This greatest hits compilation by MCA is a brief survey of a stellar career that is mostly from material recorded from 1966 to 1976, excepting his mid-80s hit "Into the Night," which was wisely put at the end of the collection as it is obviously different in production values and intent.

You can't find a better example of the pure soulfulness of King's work than the opening track, "The Thrill is Gone," which features his voice more than his guitar.  This 1969 masterpiece is easily one of the great songs of the last fifty years.

By contrast is the upbeat "Ain't Nobody Home," where King's restrained vocals backed by a female trio and including organ, piano, horns in a bigger band, but a thinner sound.  This pleasant piece is then followed by a rollicking live version of "Let The Good Times Roll" with the irrepressible Bobby Bland working with King to take the sound to a higher level.  It's a fantastic version and King gets in some tasty soloing, as well.

The party gives way to one of the sweetest and finest ballads of King's work, introduced by a highly soulful and mournful solo backed by horns and piano in the excellent "Guess Who," from 1972.  Here, though, it's King voice that  takes center stage and his singing is just beautiful.

"I Like to Live the Love" has the horns, basslines, and, especially, the drum tuning that is pretty clearly an attempt to emulate the Al Green sound, since that soul singer was at the top of his game in 1973 when the tune was recorded.  King, though, sings with great effectiveness, even putting in a little Green-like effect on the chorus.  A nice addition, as well, is the percussion (conga drums and so on), though there isn't much guitar at all.

On 1966's "Don't Answer the Door," the first of a trio from blues central in Chicago, there is a deep blues groove with the high trebly guitar intro over an organ drone sounding like it is in another room, but it is a sweet solo to start. King's vocal is outstanding, imploring, shouting and showing the man at his best.  It's quite a contrast to the previous song and shows King at the peak of his classic blues period.

Another great live tune, also from '66, is "Sweet Sixteen," another slow blues groove where King's soloing at the start has a lower range than on "Don't Answer the Door" until he moves higher up in range and lets loose some hot licks, before his impassioned vocals, accompanied by a sax, elicit screams, yells and other loud affirmations from a highly-appreciative crowd.

The short, radio-ready, "Paying the Cost To Be the Boss," shuffles along nicely behind the short opening solo until King hits his soulful stride in his vocal.  With some tasty horns, percolating organ, a sinewy and prominent bassline and a nice steady drum beat, this is another classic King tune from 1967.

1971's "I Got Some Help I Don't Need," has a short intro with a bit of an organ solo before King launches his vocal, mixed in an interesting way, but it's great because his singing his outstanding.  The drums are also mixed in a strange way, though the crystalline cymbals work well.  It may be that the sound came out as it did because the tune was produced by Ed Michel, who did a ton of great jazz records for Impulse! and other labels at the time.

That leaves "Into the Night," which is definitely an artifact of that mid-1980s film soundtrack era.  The synthesizers, at least two of them, and the bass are jarring compared to the other pieces on the record, but there is some good soloing by the guitar master and his singing is given a blues shouter gusto, especially as he bellows out the title, that does offset to a significant degree the instrumental backing.  It's as if King knew that he had to turn up the heat on his singing to take attention away from the rest of the performance!

R.I.P. B.B.
Clearly, B.B. King enthusiasts will point to any number of proper albums or other compilations as more representative of the greatness of this outstanding blues legend.  The Best of B.B. King is, however, a good overview of a decade of some of the master's best work, even if "Into the Night" is a bit out of place.

No comments:

Post a Comment