The legend that was, and still is, BB King can be found in the influences and covers that abound in the world of blues and rock. There is one band, however, that are more qualified and informed and they have a new album out for all to enjoy. The BB King Blues Band provided the backdrop that allowed the great man to shine and now they bring that expertise and inherent knowledge to the table with an album that mixes King covers and original compositions…aptly titled The Soul of the King, the core band are joined by a host of special guests in a celebration of the towering talent of BB. As one of the producers, Terry Harvey said, “After being with B.B. for thirty-five years, this band lives and breathes his music. It has become part of them.“ This then, in my view at least, should not be lumped in with all those tribute albums…it is more a band showcasing new songs and wrapping them with a few standards that they played on many occasions and revisit with a slight massage to the original originals.
It opens with Irene, Irene that launches with horny horns heralding the first guest…none other than the redoubtable Kenney Wayne Shepherd. His style is perfect on this lovely blues song…fluid, precise and emotion fuelled and a solo of such brilliance. Backed by this quality band with Jackson singing well and great piano fills, it is blues like wot it should be and embodies what BB was al about. Next is Sweet Little Angel which keeps the BB tones and feel but makes it different enough for it to sit alongside the King version. The clever, almost buried, the sound of the B3 and the guitar phrasing adds so much if you listen carefully. The guitar solo is neat, expansive and conveys the blues with runs and bends and barred notes…exceedingly good. Although written by Doc Pomus and Dr John, There Must Be A Better World Somewhere was made his own when BB first laid it down. On this update, Diunna Greenleaf does a fine job on the vocals as she injects subtlety and emotion in equal measures. The sax at the beginning is too high in the mix and, although it’s pared-back a bit later, the song would have been better, in my view, if the guitar had done the punctuation as it could have reflected better Diunna’s performance. Paying The Cost To Be The Boss has a fabulous acoustic guitar intro before the piano backs a thoughtful and glorious duet from Mary Griffin and Taj Mahal. The acoustic solo to is a touch of genius as well as a delight and the bass line is superb. A change of pace and tone as Low Down brings a tuba into play…always a bit of a worry, but when it’s done right it can actually bring a new dimension to a song…and when the dimension is Nawleans, then it fits right in. The snare work behind it, the trumpet and the piano make you feel as if you were there! This is quite simply good time jazzy blues. We move into proper R’n’B ballad territory with She’s The One as the familiar chord progression is woven into sax and Hammond drenched song with a soulful edge. Taking Care of Business starts with a wonderful swirl from the B3 before the funk hits and hits hard. The guitar playing from Crosby is inspired while the bass, horns and drums keep it tight. This time the sax solo is just right and the only thing lacking is more of the guitar solo. Becoming The Blues moves to the back porch (if you brought the piano out of the front room onto said porch!) with some lovely harp playing on this slow true blues number. After pace increases halfway though, it moves off the porch into a bar and keeps getting better, especially when the electric guitar solo takes familiar patterns and makes them sing. Hey There Pretty Woman has horny horns and guitar playing that sounds more Freddie than BB to my ears, but that doesn’t detract in any way…after all it just means we are getting two of the three Kings on one record! A great sax solo should, in my humble, have given way to that guitar and it would have made this one even better. It is also worth listening to the bass and drum interplay closely…that’s the way to do it. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow brings a swing and the bass is again the star as Jackson takes the ‘walking bass’ style and makes it fit perfectly: the piano solo works a treat too with the horns backing it all up nicely. Regal Blues (A Tribute to the King) is a true tribute…it is new, original and yet has all of BB’s trademark feel in the rhythm and, particularly, lead breaks…it is sheer genius and a true tribute. “When I first Lucille, you know it knocked me out…bought me a guitar and tried to figure it out” in the lyrics sums up how the impact of BB was felt and led many to emulate and others. Like your truly, to realise he has more talent in his little finger than I have in my entire failed guitar playing body…ah well, at least I can listen to him and his contemporaries showing the way. Pocket Full of Money is the only minor failure to these ears as the ‘crooner’ or lounge feel to the song means it doesn’t reach the heights I have become used to, and the trumpet solo is well executed but overstays my welcome at least. The closing track, The Thrill Is Gone, puts everything right again as they take this BB classic and put some funk into the mix in a very effective way. The guitar is almost languid and yet so fluid and all the while keeps a BB feel to the song he made his.
All in all, I think BB would have approved of the ‘covers’ and would have been proud to contribute to the new songs…and that is praise indeed. This is a fine blues album that will not disappoint on any level and will be a great addition to any blues lovers’ collection.
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Irene, Irene
- Sweet Little Angel
- There Must Be a Better World Somewhere
- Paying the Cost to Be the Boss
- Low Down
- She’s The One
- Taking Care of Business
- Becoming the Blues
- Hey There Pretty Woman
- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
- Regal Blues (A Tribute to The King)
- Pocket Full of Money
- The Thrill is Gone
Russell Jackson: Lead Vocal (1,5,7,8)
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Guitar (1)
Kenny Neal: Lead Vocals, Guitar Solo (2), Harmonica Solo (8)
Diunna Greenleaf: Lead Vocals (3), Background Vocals (8)
Eric Demmer: Lead Vocals (6), Alto, Saxophone Solo (3,4), Saxophone Solo (6,9), Tenor, Saxophone Solo (7)
Mary Griffin and Taj Mahal: Lead Vocals and Guitar (4)
Lamar Boulet: Trumpet (5), Trumpet Solo (12)
Krik Joseph: Tuba (5)
James “Boogaloo” Bolden & Johns Dell: Background vocals (7)
Wilbert Crosby: Guitar Solo (7,8)
James “Boogaloo” Bolden: Lead Vocals (9, 10, 12)
Darrell Lavigne: Keyboard Solo (10)
Joe Louis Walker: Lead Vocals, Guitar Solo (11)
Michael Lee: Lead Vocals, Guitar Solo (13)
The list above is the solo contributors and guests: the full and current line up of the ‘normal’ band is Michael Lee (Lead Vocals. Lead Guitar), James “Boogaloo” Bolden (Trumpet), Russel Jackson (Bass and Vocals), Herman Jackson (Drums), Eric Demmer (Saxophone), Wilbert Crosby (Guitar and Vocals), Lamar Boulet (Trumpet), Darrell Lavigne (Keyboards), and Walter King (Saxophone).