Review Summary: 'But I got a little Frank, Sammy, little Ray Charles. In fact all the people with soul in this'
I have heard it said that the violin is the instrument that most closely resembles the human voice, and while I believe this to be true, I think the instrument most capable of capturing the human soul is the guitar. I love the guitar. It is the only instrument really capable giving life to a song equally well as a small part of a massive band where it only gets fifteen seconds to shine and as the focus, in a lone man’s acoustic guitar special. The guitar has appeared everywhere from the acoustic mastery of Mississippi Delta Blues legends like Robert Johnson to the nine string djenters that are busy taking the modern metal scene by storm, and has succeeded in capturing the imagination of everyone within these genres and everyone who listens to them. Within these genres - but mostly in metal - there have been many guitar players who have used their amazing technical mastery of the guitar to redefine what people believe the instrument can do. These players include Steve Vai, Buckethead, Yngwie Malmsteen and John Petrucci to name a few. These players are owners of an amazing talent and have fingers that can perform feats that most humans couldn’t even imagine accomplishing. But while I have massive respect for players like this, I would always find myself backing the player who could muster the most soul out of the instrument. These players may lack some of the technical capabilities of their less soul focussed compatriots, but overall I believe that they have a better understanding of the guitar’s true calling as an instrument. Unfortunately though, it seems more and more these days that the soul in guitar and the players who can find it (barring David Gilmour and a very small number of others) was left in the blues heyday. It also seems that more than a fair share of that soul was bequeathed to one B.B King through his guitar Lucille. This appears to be more than a fair enough reason for him to dedicate an album to her, and it just happened that this would be possibly his best studio effort ever.
is an album with nine songs on it and comes in at around about forty minutes. While this may not seem like a long time, it is more than long enough for B.B to express the soulful sound that he is so famous for. Lucille
is an album alive and pulsing with a beautifully thick blues soul that is showcased everywhere, from Mr. King’s roaring vocals to the blazing brass in the background. The biggest part of this album’s blues brilliance is his guitar work, which manages to be slow and contain very few notes, and yet it just appears that every single note that B.B chooses is the perfect note for that moment in the song. The best demonstration of this is the title track ‘Lucille’. The song is a ten minute long spoken word track on which B.B tells the story of his guitar’s name and his journey into the blues, amongst other things. There is overall not a lot of instrumentation on the song besides B.B and his guitar, although there are some horns in the background and the standard bass and drums combination, but it is a very open track, leaving a lot of space for B.B to really let his guitar shine. The soloing on this song is superb, for all of the ten minutes that the song carries on for there isn’t a single wrong note, just a ten minute long string of perfectly timed guitar wails. Throughout the whole song it seems as if B.B and Lucille are playing a kind of couple, where B.B takes his turn telling the parts of the story that he knows and then allowing Lucille to come on afterwards and tell her parts of the story in the form of a spectacular guitar solo. While this song is probably the strongest track on the whole album, there are other highlights that will make guitar player’s heads turn. These include the slow burning ‘Country Girl’ in which B.B explains the nature of his relationship with a girl from out of the city. The song starts off in a slow and quiet mid-tempo manner, but then slowly builds, with the brass becoming more and more prominent as B.B’s singing becomes more and more incensed. The standout moment of this track are the little guitar licks that permeate the beginning and the solos that will turn any blues fan’s head. There is also the closing song ‘Watch Yourself’, this is a song about the girl threatening to leave him, and it features B.B soloing in his extremely familiar (in a good way) manner over the constant refrain of the songs title towards then end, creating a moment of blues gold.
However, despite the monstrous guitar ability of Mr. King, a lot of the songs here don’t focus on the guitar, with the guitar only really appearing to solo or rip out a few licks in between Mr. King’s sung lines and then dropping off of the soundscape altogether. The soundscape is instead made up of B.B’s ferocious singing voice backed by a lush arrangement of bass, drums, horns, keys and occasionally an organ. The brass section is probably the standout of the backing instruments, with the players adding a deeper, richer feel to all of these songs by converting the carbon dioxide that most humans emit as evidence of life into a beautiful deep and rich sound. The brass section really stands out on songs like ‘You Move Me’ which features no guitar at all but rather moves along at an up-tempo rate, with the brass and an excellent keyboard riff being the song’s driving force and creating the best background for B.B to sing his heart out. Other than this, the bass player(s) on this album really knew their way around, providing deep funky basslines that will incite many an ‘Mm yeah’. B.B could also really sing, with his deep and occasionally gruff voice powering lyrics out with aplomb. He often sings in the typical blues way where he will sing a line once in a slightly soft manner only to repeat it later with real fire in his voice, as if to emphasise the lyrics. His singing is at its best on songs like the aforementioned ‘Country Girl’ and ‘You Move Me’ and one of the many songs covering the obligatory blues topic of unrequited love or love caused pain ‘Stop Putting the Hurt On Me’. While it is definitely B.B’s brilliant guitar playing and perfect blues singing voice that are the main contributors to this albums blues brilliance, these elements couldn’t achieve what they do without the excellent musicality of the men in the background, who take to their job with gusto and create the perfect foil to accentuate the mountains of blues soul that filled B.B. King.
Despite the many highlights of this album, there are one or two flaws to be found. For example the lyrics on the album. They are all quintessential blues lyrics, full of ideas like making love to your baby, or your woman misusing you in a relationship. They are just incredibly generic, and it just appears as if B.B. didn’t even attempt to dodge the stereotypical blues lyrical style by adding any form of nuance or intrigue, but rather just wrote whatever he was thinking of at the time and sung it in his glorious voice using as many blues words as possible. While this may bother some though, it doesn’t hold this album back as much as it should, because this album has music that is so deep and soulfully bluesy that anything that could have happened with the lyrics would have been a secondary focus anyway. Another issue that those new to blues or blues detractors may find with the album is how homogenous it is. Apart from ‘You Move Me’ and the closer ‘Watch Yourself’ the album moves along at a fairly uniform mid-tempo pace and never really seems to break out of this. And while this will feel like home territory to the seasoned blues listener, it could become boring or even frustrating to those who don’t spend so much time listening to the blues as it tends to hide the stand out moments that the album has sometimes.
It seems that more and more these days that music is being removed from the humanity that creates it, in particular the popular music with the rise of electronic music and synth pop. While I am certainly not saying that these genres don’t make good music, the majority of the time the music is missing something. For with the perfect guitars that hide in the background and the electronic instruments that do exactly what you want them to, you start to lose the slight imperfections that give the music real character. This is soul in music by my definition, the in studio jam sessions that resulted in some of the greatest songs ever recorded, in amongst hours of rubbish. The amazing music that comes about when someone who really knows what they want just sits in the studio and plays. This album has this kind of soul in buckets, it isn’t perfect, there are definitely times when you can hear a missed note here and there or a note that doesn’t come as clearly as it could, and the lyrics aren’t as good as they could be. But in this imperfection there is a brilliant album to be found, with a genuine human soul. If you’re new to blues, this album should be amongst your entry records, if you’re a seasoned blues listener, what took you so long?