First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Mon February 25, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
Over the course of the past two years, B.B. King has been circling the globe on what is presumed to be his final farewell tour. Although he has no desire to hang up his hat and call it a day, King, who is now in his early 80s, understandably does plan to slow down the pace of his life by confining his live appearances to North America. Not surprisingly, then, his recent jaunt is, in effect, a celebration of the six decades that he has spent changing the face of the music business. His new project Live, which has been issued in separate CD and DVD sets, stands not only as a concise, if incomplete, summation of his extraordinary career but also as a love letter to his fans.
These days, King may be confined to a chair for the duration of his concerts, but he still strikes a commanding presence. His backing band ó which includes many longstanding collaborators as well as a few youthful newcomers such as bass player Reggie Richards ó is magnificent. In fact, the two cuts that open the DVD rendition of Live (Manhattan Blues and Two I Shot Blues) are superlative workouts that give his ensemble ample room to demonstrate their prowess. King is a gracious leader, but once he takes the stage, he also makes it quite clear that he isnít about to be overshadowed by his supporting cast. Although the collective adds a funky undercurrent to Why I Sing the Blues as well as a gospel-soul flair to I Need You, itís Kingís personality that dominates the proceedings. His voice may be a fraction of what it once was. Nevertheless, he remains capable of mustering a full-throated roar that conveys the same level of passion and conviction that it always has.
Captured over the course of several nights at his fabled blues clubs in Nashville and Memphis, Live showcases a number of tunes with which King long has been associated ó When Love Comes to Town, Rock Me Baby, and The Thrill Is Gone, among them. Yet, he doesnít even come close to scratching the surface of his estimable canon. Although the individual tracks were culled from different shows, they masterfully have been woven together to form a cohesive statement, and in a strange twist of honesty, the DVD clearly identifies the date and location of the recording, even if the switch takes place mid-song.
Throughout Live, King uses the intimacy of the venues he owns to chat in a good-natured fashion with the assembled crowd. He acknowledges his reputation as a womanizer, and he frames his songs with tales about the pitfalls of love and life. King has never been one to become mired in down-and-out dreariness, and instead, his version of the blues is filled with humor and wit. Consequently, he provides comfort more than commiseration, which makes his style particularly well suited to such a joyous tribute to his life.
Whenever King tears into a guitar solo, he raises the intensity of the performance. As Live progresses, he and his ensemble become a little looser. This allows them to spin on a dime, so to speak, as they shift from the springy, country-infused bounce of You Are My Sunshine into the slower slipstream of Darling, You Know I Love You and from the seductive Rock Me Baby to the liberated ambience of Key to the Highway. Although Live pales in comparison to Kingís essential concert recordings Live at the Regal and Live in Cook County Jail, it also isnít necessarily meant to compete with them. Instead, it complements his prior endeavors by showing that although he may be older and wiser, King still can entertain his audience by coaxing a range of emotions out of his beloved Lucille. Ĺ
Live [DVD] is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box