Ben E. King

I've Been Around

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When you were the lead singer on several classic tracks from the late '50s ("There Goes My Baby," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me") like Ben E. King was for the Drifters, and your first solo efforts ("Spanish Harlem," "Stand by Me") are acknowledged classic recordings, where does that legacy place you some 45 years later? King is already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so it's not like he's been forgotten or anything, but his new album, I've Been Around, is so bland and unexciting that it isn't likely to lead to any kind of career revival, and none of the album's dozen songs comes even remotely close to his early work. King can still sing, although he's downshifted into a kind of whispered croon, which isn't necessarily a problem given the smooth contemporary R&B sound he favors these days, but the songs here, many of which he had a hand in co-writing, simply have no lasting resonance. They're so light and smooth that they have almost no taste at all. Oh, there are brief moments of possibility, like on the opener, "Here Is My Heart's Desire," which starts off coasting elegantly but then never manages to find a second gear. The title tune, "I've Been Around," has a subtle self-effacement to it that feels human and real, but it too fails to build much past its opening verse and chorus. The summer breeze feel of "Fly Away" is the closest thing to an upbeat track here, and it almost appears to have wandered in from another album. The production is solid and professionally perfect on I've Been Around. King's singing is fine, too, if not quite what it used to be. The songs are the problem. They don't retain any vibrancy, and even the ones that start off with a bit of a spark soon sputter themselves out in a kind of bland, smooth perfection that is almost impossible to hold in memory. Now "Stand by Me," on the other hand....

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