The Modern Recordings, 1950-1951

B.B. King

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The Modern Recordings, 1950-1951 Review

by Richie Unterberger

Be aware straight away that this is a release for the very serious B.B. King fan, certainly not the general one, and perhaps not even one who wants a good number of albums by the guitarist in the house. This two-CD, 33-track retrospective of his earliest recordings for Modern is more for the scholar and completist. It includes not only his singles from the era (among them "3 O'Clock Blues"), but also alternate takes and outtakes, some of which have been released on other reissues over the years, eight of which are issued here for the first time. The biggest strike against it, for the casual listener, is that it's sequenced so that the multiple versions of the same song are bunched together, so that you'll often hear the same tune twice or three times in a row. For the intense blues and King admirer, though, that could be considered an advantage, allowing close inspection of his early studio work. It's certainly a valid approach for those who want microscopic close-ups of an artist's oeuvre, and Ace handles it well, with detailed liners that in part go into collector arcania like the numbering of Modern releases and grid charts of early session details. Getting back to the music -- which is, nominally, why listeners bother with such stuff in the first place -- it's good early electric blues/R&B crossover, though King had a way to go before reaching his peak. There are some burning sides here, like "Fine Lookin' Woman," "Shake It up and Go," "B.B. Boogie," and "That Ain't the Way to Do It," as well as more routine, smoother blends. As for the alternates, they really don't differ enormously from the takes initially approved for release, though careful listeners will detect some variations in tempo and phrasing. There are some harsh surface noises carried over from the sources used for mastering on occasional cuts, but generally the fidelity is as good as can be.

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