B.B. King

Mr. Blues [Hip-O]

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To suggest that B.B. King's ABC-Paramount debut LP Mr. Blues (1963) is stylistically diverse is an understatement. Granted, cohesion might not have been top priority to a label who actually sandwiched Mr. Blues between releases by Fats Domino and the New York Salvation Army Staff Band. Another rationale is that the album was filled with a dozen tracks cut during three disparate dates. These chronologically commence March 1, 1962 with the Maxwell Davis Orchestra. Then, nearly seven months later on September 19, 1962, King is backed by Belford Hendricks and ensemble. Finally on April 11, 1963, he joins Teacho Wilshire to collectively produce enough material to cobble together this compile. Fortunately, half of Mr. Blues is derived from the superior Davis-led recordings, highlighted by the Ahmet Ertegun-inked "Chains of Love" -- a hit for blues shouter Big Joe Turner. Ivory Joe Hunter's "Blues at Midnight" allows King to show off his own brand of blues testifyin'. Similarly enjoyable are the ebullient "I'm Gonna Sit in 'Til You Give In" and "My Baby's Comin' Home," as they bear the distinct presence of King's nimble guitar craft. Belford Hendricks took King through the decidedly sensitive "By Myself" and "A Mother's Love" with arrangements that bring King's intimate singing styles to the center of attention. Hendricks' uncertainty as exactly how to present King is evident on the garish orchestration of "Tomorrow Night" and the Jesse Belvin co-penned "Guess Who." Yet those missteps pale when compared to the overbearing vocalists who smother the Teacho Wilshire-led "On My Word of Honor" and the opener "Young Dreamers." Perhaps one initial direction for King was as a Johnny Mathis-type of crooner, as these scores indicate little more than over-the-top leads. While Mr. Blues is far from a total washout, there are much better examples of B.B. King's mastery as a singer and guitarist circa the early '60s. That said, interested parties are encouraged to locate Hip-O Select's 2006 CD reissue. It has the best-known transfer of the original analogue tapes, an exhaustively researched sessionography for each song, and full reproductions of the vintage LP jacket.

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