- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

B.B. King

‘80’

(Geffen)

Turning 80 today, B.B. King continues to prove he hasn’t lost a guitar lick or a vocal chop.

A professional musician since his early 20s, when he abandoned sharecropping in Indianola, Miss., and headed north for Memphis, Tenn. to play the blues, Mr. King has recorded more than 70 albums.

On his latest, “80,” the bluesman has recorded 12 duets — with Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Roger Daltrey, Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Darryl Hall, Mark Knopfler, Glen Frey, Billy Gibbons and John Mayer. Each track is distinctive and features Mr. King’s signature guitar work and amazingly well-preserved vocals fused seamlessly with the considerable talents of his partners.

“80,” Mr. King’s first duet album since 1997’s “Deuces Wild,” attempts to plug into the formula behind the late Ray Charles’ triple-platinum posthumous success in recording 2004’s “Genius Loves Company” (Concord).

Mr. King can only be compared to the greats of his genre in impact, influence and longevity: Mr. Charles, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy come to mind.

On “80,” from the record’s opening salvo with Mr. Morrison, the rollicking “Early in the Morning,” Mr. King proves he’s after something much more than mere novelty. A blistering number, “Early in the Morning” underscores that Mr. King (and Mr. Morrison) still are capable of conjuring hot-blooded blues that is danceable and hypnotic.

Mr. King rerecords his hit “The Thrill Is Gone” with Mr. Clapton featured on guitar. Thirty-five years ago, Mr. King scored his greatest crossover success with “Thrill” (No. 15 on the pop charts in 1970), and on this remake, Mr. Clapton, who was heavily influenced by Mr. King, pays homage to his mentor and breathes new life into the stately classic.

Elton John plays a mean boogie-woogie piano alongside Mr. King on “Rock This House,” and Darryl Hall of Hall and Oats offers a funky, bouncy counterpoint on “Ain’t Nobody Home.” Roger Daltrey offers gut-bucket blues on “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top offers raspy vocals and blazing guitar on “Tired of Your Jive.”

However, it is Mr. King’s duet with Mr. Mayer, a still-budding 28-year-old pop star, that proves the album’s most stunning and memorable effort. Those with ears for hits will instantly recognize that “Hummingbird,” the soaring Leon Russell-penned track performed by Mr. King and Mr. Mayer, is as good as gold.

The album’s only low point is Mr. King’s sleepy duet with Miss Crow, “Need Your Love So Bad.” However, that throwaway cut is more than redeemed by the record as a whole.

In particular, the slow Southern burn of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” a sentimental journey with Mr. King’s Beale Street contemporary Mr. Bland, more than makes up for the momentary lapse with Miss Crow. Here, Mr. King announces gruffly and somewhat self-depreciatingly, “I’m just an old guy trying to play the blues.”

We should all be so old.


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