Ladies and Gentlemen…..Mr. BB King.
A treasure chest of riches fit for a King.
A prolific recording artist, the legendary Mississippi Bluesman’s memory hasn’t been served well in the last few months. Some of the horrible ‘cash in’ Best Of albums and mysterious ‘live recordings’ following his death made me shudder, with the average quality being that of a Woolworths Cassette recorder. I should know; I bought two and one was full price!
Mercifully that has been put right by the good people at Universal who initially released a 10 then 4 CD retrospective that really showcased the great man’s career; and now they have collated the very best of those tracks into a Double 180 gram LP offering plus a 72 page silver gilded hardback book.
Thankfully, for review purposes I was sent a download; but I have heard Album one on a Technics Hi-Fi with Goodman speakers and the tone is delightfully warm and absolutely pitch perfect.
Side 1 opens with How Blue Can You Get; and as they say ‘BB has more soul in one note, than most other guitarists have in a whole album.’ Without the book to hand I can’t tell you what the session was; but BB’s voice sounds very smooth and young; plus the band are red hot; so I’d guess this is a mid-period 60’s/70’s recording.
It’s a similar story with The Thrill is Gone which comes in at #4 on side 1; the mastering is meticulous and I’ve never heard a version of this song sounding as clear and precise since I first heard it on the John Peel Show in 1970 or there about, when it blew my mind.
Side 2 opens with a 10 minute live version of Worry Worry from Live at Cook County Jail; which really is a high point of the four sides here; showcasing the great man at his very best; both singing and playing the guitar. His interplay with the audience raised a few smiles too.
This is followed by a relatively rare track; Sweet 16 from the Live at Sankei Hall, Japan in 1971. I’ve heard many versions of this song; but again Universal have raided the vaults to find us a career defining recording. King’s voice is immaculate and Ron Levy’s piano playing is worthy of an album itself.
Only three tracks on this side with the rather dated Ghetto Woman making up the numbers. Far from being a bad track; just the sentiment and the full orchestra aren’t necessarily what I want to hear in 2015. That said; it works as a template for a lot of music on the Ecko Records label.
Side 3 just may be my favourite of the four on offer; but that’s a bit like asking which is my favourite Grandchild. Opening with the sublime There Must Be a Better World Somewhere; which I’d not heard before I found myself sinking deep into my armchair as that silky smooth voice washed all over me as Mac Rebennack on the piano and a host of saxophones and trumpets combine to sound like a Heavenly choir.
The next song will jar with purists; but when put into perspective When Love Comes to Town with U2, is actually one of BB; and indeed U2’s finest songs and let’s not forget it had on resurrecting his career around the world. Thankfully there’s nothing here from the album with Clapton.
Possibly the biggest surprise for me here is the immaculate and red hot version of Stormy Monday; why have I not heard this adaptation before? I’ve got three others; but nothing comes close to this slice of Rhythm and Blues perfection.
Side 4 jumps back to the olden golden days with a rip-snorting Caledonia; which shows what a tip-top guitarist the big man always was and on the live version of Key to the Highway; from his own Club, he leaves his protogees in the guitar as he truly makes Lucille sing like a virgin as it accompanies his gorgeous voice.
When we get to the final track of the double album; you will be forgiven for sniffing back a tear. I’d never heard BB King perform See That My Grave is Kept Clean; but now I’ve heard him make it his own with an almost New Orleans swing version, I can’t think of a better way to close the curtain on the King of the Blues.
Released November 6th 2015