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Easy Listening Blues, CD (£7.43)
B.B. King has never minded sharing the spotlight with his best gal Lucille. On this 1962 album - he only all-instrumental set he ever waxed for the Bihari brothers' budget-priced Crown logo and the sixth entry in Ace's comprehensive reissue program of B.B.'s vast Crown LP catalogue - he allows Lucille to do all the talking. As you might expect, she's as eloquent and concise as ever.
Blues guitar instrumentals were selling like the proverbial hotcakes in late 1961, when these sessions were held, Freddy King nailing national smashes that same year with Hide Away and San-Ho-Zay. But B.B.'s conception for the 10 tracks originally comprising Easy Listening Blues" (rather an odd title for an album that'll never be confused with the work of Perry Como, Jack Jones, or Jerry Vale) wasn't as complex as Freddy's hook-laden masterpieces. With the estimable Lloyd Glenn on piano, Maxwell Davis on organ, and a typically tight rhythm section in tow (no horns were booked for the dates), B.B. strolled into the studio and went at his mission in a basically off-the-cuff manner. Formal arrangements were kept to a minimum whether on the tough upbeat Night Long or a more relaxed Confessin', Slow Walk (rechristened Slow Burn when it reappeared on a Kent 45 some years later), and Walkin'.
The butter-smooth title track opens with a cascade of elegant ninth chords underscoring King's eternal debt to T-Bone Walker, while Don't Touch recalls past glories by utilising the principal riff from King's Latin-tinged '53 smash Woke Up This Morning as its starting point. Shoutin' The Blues takes a similar tack, quoting from the broomdusting beginning of another '53 King classic, Please Love Me, before breaking into a salty shuffle.
As has been the norm for this series, compiler/annotator John Broven has added a series of splendid bonus tracks, all of them instrumentals, to augment the package. The slithery 3 O'Clock Stomp, later saddled with the odd alternate title Poontwangie, was issued as a 1962 Kent single. Mashing The Popeye, could have just as easily been designated for doing the Twist as the Popeye-.-the second part here was originally released as B.B. Rock.
The mood is jazzier and the horn section full on the luscious mid-tempo Really The Blues while Low Rider finds King peeling off stinging licks over a choppy, sax-leavened rhythmic thrust. Perhaps most intriguing of all is King's Rock Jazz, a title which does no justice to the torrid outing as King once again shows how conversant he was with straight-ahead jazz.
Finally, there are two masterpieces from 1955 that comprised both sides of a 1955 RPM single. The master tape for Boogie Rock has never turned up over the decades (an alternate take graced Ace's recent B.B. boxed set under the title House Rocker), so a clean 78 has been used as a source. King outdoes himself here on guitar, his endlessly imaginative riffing taking him all over Lucille's fretboard in jazz-steeped excursions that'll leave your jaw hanging open (Maxwell Davis roars up a storm on his two-chorus tenor sax break). And its flip Talkin' The Blues is another gem (the master tape recently turned up after a long and arduous search), moody and mid-tempo with B.B. ranging way up high on Lucille's neck to coax some screaming bent notes from her lovely innards. These two stunners may well be King's finest and most fully realised instrumental efforts to date.
This disc is enough to make me seriously reconsider my innate distaste for anything described as "easy listening". Get out those air guitars!
By Bill Dahl"