One Kind Favor
John Metzger's #3 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by John Metzger
Tue October 21, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
For all of his successes — from the crossover hit The Thrill Is Gone to the numerous singles he placed on Billboard’s R&B charts — B.B. King largely has suffered the fate of many blues artists, albeit to a lesser degree. Not only has the bulk of his output gone unnoticed, but it also has been underappreciated by the masses. In recent years, he hasn’t helped himself either. Alternating between high-profile efforts — such as the star-studded 80 as well as his collaboration with Eric Clapton on Riding with the King — and low-key moments of refined maturity, which are exemplified by Makin’ Love Is Good for You and Reflections, King mostly has played it safe.
One Kind Favor is altogether different from anything King has done in recent years. Produced by T Bone Burnett — who has worked on a remarkable string of efforts of late, including John Mellencamp’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, King’s latest endeavor is as good an album as any in his canon. In effect, with Burnett’s assistance, King has created, at long last, a studio outing that rivals his seminal concert sets Live in Cook County Jail and Live at the Regal. To put it simply, One Kind Favor may be the product of an 83-year-old industry veteran, but there’s no denying the youthful vigor and vitality that King brought to the project.
It helps considerably, of course, that One Kind Favor avoids the sort of slick, polished production that increasingly has found its way into the constructs of King’s efforts. In fact, with few exceptions, the endeavor forsakes modern techniques completely, embracing instead a sound that is timelessly authentic. The songs powerfully burst forth from One Kind Favor with the kind of fury that captures the raw energy that was released when the blues first was amplified and blended with jazz and R&B to form the basis of rock ’n‘ roll. Even when present-day flourishes filter through the scuffling beat of See that My Grave Is Kept Clean, the resulting music embraces an organic, driving groove that is irrefutable.
King’s voice might not be as smooth as it once was, but with Burnett’s guidance, he plays to his strengths throughout One Kind Favor, delivering each song as if it were a deeply personal plea for love or remembrance. Although the arrangements hardly could be considered to have been stripped to their core, they are present for one purpose only — to support King’s impassioned cries. He, more than anyone, has a way of conveying all the torment and anguish that a song has to offer, without making it feel oppressive. Instead, King turns the release of his pain into a process of spiritual healing and ultimately a life-affirming gesture.
Assisted by the New Orleans-imbued piano accompaniments of Dr. John as well as a crack rhythm section that includes drummer Jim Keltner and bass player Nathan East, King revels in One Kind Favor’s back-to-basics arrangements. On each song on the endeavor, he builds tension beneath the surface of his emotional tales by threading his aggressive-yet-lyrical guitar solos through the churning rhythms, allowing the notes to bend and curve around the percussive arrangements as well as the accents provided by a small horn section. When King tackles Lonnie Johnson’s Backwater Blues, he sounds as if he’s reflecting on Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, and when he delves into the darkness of Get These Blues Off Me or The World Gone Wrong, his performance exudes the determination of a survivor, which, of course, is exactly what King has become. ˝
51st Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Traditional Blues Album
Of Further Interest...
One Kind Favor is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box