Neither ropey nor exceptional, this collection inhabits the sturdy middle ground...
Martin Longley 2008-04-11
This collection spans two decades of the Mississippi blues master's BBC output, from 1978 to 1998. The material is mostly recorded at gigs in London, Glasgow and Croydon, but a pair of live-in-the-studio session tracks are tagged on at the end, numbers which were originally laid down for Andy Kershaw's Radio 1 show. The King sound is eternal, and it's remarkable how little his formula has changed over this time span (and indeed before and after the selected years). The one development is that as age advances, B.B. has decelerated the set's pace, including longer onstage patter between numbers, and even over each song's vamping musical introduction.
The first five tracks are from a 1978 Hammersmith Odeon concert, in London. The slick revue style is already in place, but King's delivery remains gritty, its rawness intact. There's a roughness to his smoothness. It's a winning combination of rugged vocals and guitar meeting tight horn arrangements, and slick organ swirls. The pace on Caldonia is sprightly, punching with saxophone and trumpet solos. Then, King cuts to the exposed soulfulness of I Love To Live The Life, followed by a sudden descent into the coasting ballad softness of Night Life. Often, it's these slower tunes that carry greater weight, and the pace is kept down-and-spacious for The Thrill Is Gone.
Fourteen years on, and the band sound remains much the same, with a lengthy guitar introduction setting the scene for I Gotta Move Out Of This Neighbourhood, quieting down for an exposed B.B. vocal. Many of his songs tend to deal with woes brought on by womankind, even if peppered with some sly self-lacerating humour. The best of these is How Blue Can You Get?. The five tracks from Croydon's Fairfield Hall, in 1998, show how King had increased the verbals by this stage, but the disc closes out with its two concise Kershaw cuts, the band just playing it straight in the BBC's Maida Vale studio. Neither ropey nor exceptional, this collection inhabits the sturdy middle ground between these extremes.