Review Summary: The King of Blues is back.
There’s little more that can be said about B.B. King
and his vast career spanning over six decades. Every few years or so he tenders something new, something revitalising, something tangible for all listeners who devote their time to his music. In the past few journeys, he allowed uncertain modern production techniques to toy (and sometimes dictate) with his eloquence, ultimately producing something different, but not quite as desirable. And now, here in 2008 at the humble age of 82
, King has released his best studio venture in the last decade. Certainly he’s aging, but it seems aging very well.
Alongside the guitar master is celebrated musician and producer T-bone Burnett
who draws back the raw intimacy that often makes or breaks any blues album (as seen in his penetrating recordings Singin’ the Blues
and A Heart Full of Blues
); the difference is that it has been reintroduced, not rerecorded. “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
kicks off the proceedings with vigour. The lyrics, “Well there’s one kind favour I’ll ask of you” clearly denote where the album title derives itself. The actual composition, originally illustrated by Blind Lemon Jefferson
, is an appropriate anchor for the rest of the album’s measures, showcasing a warm, biting sound reliant on acoustic buzz and goo in just about every instrument.
Throughout, his beautifully aged voice and immaculate guitar style together have pace, flare, energy and a husk that heeds each innovative interpretation and appropriately delivers them to a new destination with both influence and individuality. Even with all this, he still needs a trio to back up his grandeur. This is left to prominent session musicians Dr. John on piano, Nathan East on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums, all of whom have racked up a vast collection of inclusive studio recordings. Their talents (including King’s) encircle every song several times, with standouts being the soulful Oscar Lollie
’s “Waiting for Your Call”
, John Lee Hooker
’s illustrious “Blues Before Sunrise”
and finally Lonnie Johnson
’s warm-jazz “Tomorrow Night”
. Burnett captures them all efficiently, while to not hindering the procession of King’s free movement.
Evidently, having such free roaming space to graze amongst blues traditions makes One kind Favor
a rarity amongst many modern blues recordings, even ones from musicians cast during the same era when King was a his highest ubiquity. Some tracks highlight the importance of blues form; others just deliver on expectations for being as pure as the emotion itself seen through his vocal and technical endowment. The only fall back is that it’s such a commonplace for a blues musician such as King to reside within the tunes of others. While this in itself is not a huge dilemma, he’s always been at his best while conjoined to the notes of his creation. If this is what you are looking for, then perhaps look to earlier albums for a starting place, but interestingly, even while listening to these tracks, there’s a force of distinct independence that’s prevalent. They might be renditions, but their almost as unique as the originals themselves.