I can’t believe I have gotten this far with this daily album blog thing without talking about one of my favorite (as well as one of the world’s favorite) Blues men, B.B. King. I consider this a deep personality flaw on my part, and will hopefully rectify it with his latest and one of his greatest albums, One Kind Favor:
During the newest Blues revival, which took place smack dab in the middle of the Dark Ages of Popular Music, the 80′s, Blues music gained a lot of spotlight and popularity, both here and in the rest of the world (it’s no accident that almost all of Albert Collins’ video performances in the last part of his life took place overseas). In gaining so much ground, however, it lost a lot of that kind of mystical, ancient Delta sound that had established it over a century ago. There wasn’t an acoustic instrument to be found, and those soulful guitar melodies (that, interestingly enough, B.B. King helped create) gave way to glitzy guitar solos that, more often than not, just sounded like someone strangling a pentatonic scale. Of course, blues from the 80′s is what I grew up on, so I bear it no grudge or ill feelings, but listening to B.B. King’s latest, where he comes full circle by taking the original Blues and stays true to his own roots, despite actually being part of the roots of what the Blues became, I realize that the original is still the best, and that they don’t call B.B. “King” for nothing.
It’s all evident from the first track, a bouncing minor number with low, rumbly drums, and an upright bass playing a simple 3 note line just like mom used to make, and of course, B.B.’s guitar playing that almost outshines his amazing singing, which has not slowed down in over 50 years of playing. That’s kind of crazy, if you ask me. The song is “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”, kind of a downer if you think about the fact that B.B. is now in his 80′s and, if biological history holds true, might leave us at some point. Still, the song was written by a man while he was still alive, and it’s being sung now by a man that’s still alive, so he has just as much chance as any of us, except that he’s singing an awesome song. The song, by the way, was written in 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson (a singer that, while actually blind, didn’t mind being one of the many blues musicians to incorporate said disability into his own name, marking one of the oldest and dearest stereotypes in music: the compound Blues stagename), and is a real cracker even without B.B.’s old-but-modern treatment, which he achieved with the help of T-Bone Burnett, a guy who is very good at making new music sound old, and vice-versa.
Speaking of T-Bones, the next song is called “I Get So Weary” by T-Bone Walker (not to be confused with the producer of this album) and while the title by itself may remind one of old age and death, the song is The Blues through and through, being about a baby who has left and how the singer is weary for that reason. The song brings in horns, as if the party has now started, as they stay for quite a few songs. After that is one of my favorite titles in Blues music: “Get These Blues Off Me”, by Lee Vida Walker.
After another standard Blues classic, “How Many More Years”, we shift a little into more sophisticated Blues (the kind so many people mistaken for Jazz) with “Waiting For Your Call”, which is by Oscar Lollie, an old Blues musician who is so obscure even Wikipedia and Google combined don’t seem to know who he is. I’ll come clean with you, I don’t know either. It’s a great song though, so maybe it’s time someone found out! The guitar solo portion of this song contains some really interesting drumming that I don’t think I’ve heard in anything recorded after World War II.
Then we get a song called “My Love Is Down”, which is by Lonnie Johnson, a very important influence on B.B. King’s sound, since he’s often credited with inventing the modern guitar solo. Sure B.B.’s solos are plenty more famous, but that’s because he took that seemingly simple concept and added a great deal of soul to it. Of course, in this particular version, that soul shines through. What a fitting tribute! As a bonus, we’re treated to some piano from one of the greatest living pianists in the entire genre, the unflappable Dr. John. It might be strange, but listening to this track without reading any of the liner notes, I kind of knew it was Dr. John playing, then again his fast rolling arpeggios are rather distinct, and distinct playing is what B.B. King is all about. The next song, “The World Gone Wrong” also features some strong piano/guitar playing in one of those “call-response” kind of Blues songs I love so much.
“Blues Before Sunrise” is another great standard, this one by one of my other heroes, John Lee Hooker (I spoke of him a little bit when talking about ZZ Top the other day, a band with a strikingly similar naming scheme to B.B. King’s). This version definitely does Hooker justice, and it’s one of his stronger songs anyway.
The song that follows this, “Midnight Blues” is another of those made by an obscure artist I’m not familiar with, but has a great name nonetheless, Big Willie “Shifty” Henry. I’d like to find out who this guy is too, because this song is pretty great:
Well the clock is strikin’ twelve
Baby somebody’s gotta go
Well the clock is strikin’ twelve
Baby somebody’s gotta go
Gee but you know I’m gonna miss ya honey
That’s one thing I know
The solo portion of this song also features some interesting rhythm changes, subtle but it really adds to the fun.
The next song is one of my favorites on the album, “Backwater Blues”, by Big Bill Broonzy, one of the most prolific Blues songwriters of the genre’s pre-war hey-day. The song is slow as can be, and paints a really dismal picture of a Mississippi flood and its consequences, and best of all, it contains the most cliché line in all of Blues music: “I woke up this morning…”, but used in perfect context with the actual story.
“Sitting On Top Of The World” is quite a contrast from the darker songs earlier in this album. Don’t be fooled though, it’s still about someone’s lover leaving, just with a different twist (even though he’s singing the blues, he seems optimistic about the whole thing). It’s quite interesting!
Finally, we get another Lonnie Johnson song, “Tomorrow Night”, which starts with just B.B.’s voice and Dr. John’s piano before being joined by the other instruments. I just hope I’m singing this well when I’m in my 40′s, much less 80′s. Thankfully though, I won’t be writing about albums at that time, because I will surely run out by then!
I will not, however, run out of albums before tomorrow, but I am out of time for this one. This is one of the finest classic Blues albums you’ll ever hear, so I recommend picking it up, whether you’re a fan or not. It was right to win a Grammy, even if it went up against Buddy Guy’s new album, which is also great, and I will surely be writing about it later. Until “Tomorrow Night”, adieu!