The Ultimate Collection
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2005, Volume 12, #4
Written by John Metzger
The very notion of trying to distill B.B. King’s illustrious, 54-year career into a single disc collection — even one that pushes the medium to its 80-minute capacity — is, at first glance, an insurmountable task. After all, the legendary guitarist landed over 70 tunes on Billboard’s R&B charts, a sum that amounts to more than three times the number of tracks on The Ultimate Collection. Nevertheless, this latest repackaging of his astounding catalogue offers a rather remarkable overview of his career, even if it isn’t comprehensive enough to be called definitive. Presented in chronological order (well, almost), the compilation shifts from the slow burn of King’s first hit Three O’Clock Blues to the fiery re-interpretation of Ten Long Years that appeared on Riding with the King, his recent collaborative effort with Eric Clapton. His early recordings, which were fueled by his youthful energy, are intriguing from a developmental standpoint, while the later material is positive proof that he hasn’t lost his edge despite the uneven flow and glossy production of his latter-day outings. Even so, it’s the selections that span the period of 1959 through 1973 that truly sparkle. With his passionate vocals and emotive axe slinging, he takes the simplicity of Roy Hawkins’ The Thrill Is Gone, Jane Feather’s How Blue Can You Get?, Jerry Ragavoy’s Ain’t Nobody Home, and his own Sweet Sixteen, Parts One & Two and transforms them into pure magic. Though King will celebrate his 80th birthday in September 2005, he still manages to perform over 150 concerts each year — a testament to the very survival skills that first gave him the gumption to ask Sonny Boy Williamson for an opportunity to perform on radio station WKEM all those years ago. Indeed, there may be plenty of other equally worthwhile moments within B.B. King’s recorded canon, but The Ultimate Collection does its job in providing a solid introduction to a bona-fide master of the blues.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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