B.B. King

Blues Kingpins

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There has been a plethora of B.B. King compilations since the beginning of the new millennium, most of them not worth the plastic they are made of, but there have been some fine ones, too, such as the Ace four-CD box called The Vintage Years or their complete Modern Recordings set. In the States, the pickings are somewhat slimmer, but this little item adds immeasurably to the King discography. Issued as part of the Blues Kingpins series, this 18-track collection focuses on King's recording career between the years 1952, when he scored his first monster smash, "Three O'Clock Blues," and 1962 with another jukebox burner, "Rock Me Baby." These collections are, for the price, simply the finest money can buy in that they include tracks that may have been overlooked but are at least as necessary to an artist's oeuvre as her or his hits. In other words, the Blues Kingpins series is for connoisseurs, thank God. Fine mastering, aesthetically pleasing packaging, an excellent track selection, and a wonderful set of biographical and critical liner notes accompany each volume. Here listeners get to hear King in the process of becoming B.B. King, high priest of the blues before he became its internationally renowned face and sound. His later smashes like "The Thrill Is Gone" are not discounted, but they are part of a very different sound. These sides were recorded for the Bihari Brothers on their RPM, Kent, and Modern imprints, and finally on ABC/Paramount. These recordings are the raw, R&B side of King, with his guitar blazing between each sung line and his gospel-tinged vocal delivery on "You Upset Me Baby," "Everyday (I Have the Blues)," "Bad Luck," "Sweet Little Angel," "Please Hurry Home," and "Woke Up This Morning (My Baby's Gone)" (with Ike Turner kicking it on the piano and a full horn section busting the red lines on the tape monitors) a far cry from the refined blues statesman of later years. Give a listen to the way King interacts with the horn section on the opening bars of "Sneakin' Around (With You)" and see if you can find any young buck who can lay out 15 or 20 notes with as much intensity, burning blue soul, and passion. From top to bottom this set is full of raucous soul, blistering guitar, and killer arrangements that accent the giant that King was well on his way to becoming. Highly recommended.

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