bb king disk 88.
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B.B. KING and
Genius & Friends
Blame it on Carlos Santana for starting this whole celebrity collaboration concept with his blockbuster Supernatural album. Now everybody's doing it - even artists who are no longer alive.
Actually, none of these three discs - B.B. King, the late Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock - are really carved from the Santana mode. There aren't any new songs per se, just oldies and classics which throw together a mix of sometimes sublime and sometimes ill-advised matchings of musical personalities.
Over all, King's 80 - in honor of his 80th birthday - is the hands down winner here. Big band blues never sounded so fresh, and some of the duets - with Van Morrison on "Early in the Morning," "Need Your Love So Bad" with Sheryl Crow, "Ain't Nobody Home" with Daryl Hall, and "Rock This House" with Elton John are self assured burners.
King can still conjure up a guitar muster after 80 years, and he gives guests like ZZ Topp's Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, a run for their money. All in all, a rousing, life-affirming album.
Genius & Friends, the Charles tribute, is not as thematically cohesive as King's, but it has its moments - perhaps because it was pieced together from songs recorded as long ago as the mid-1990s. Supposedly Charles was working on this project when he died, but it seems suspiciously like a "let's take some unfinished tracks and get some famous names to complete them" ploy.
Even so, there's some worthy material. Unlikely singing partners like Chris Isaak on "You Are My Sunshine" and George Michael on "Blame it On the Sun" provide some surprises, but it's Charles' duets with women which raise the level a notch, like Angie Stone's "All I Want to Do" and Patti Labelle's "Shout." Perhaps the pinnacle is Les McCann's jazz classic "Compared to What", given an emotive reading by R&B songstress Leela James.
Hancock's offering - Possibilities - presents the biggest creative jump, as the master jazz keyboardist decides to slum it with the pop folks in search of a crossover hit. Some inspiring pairings include Damien Rice on "Don't Explain", Johnny Lang and Joss Stone on U2's "When Love Comes to Town" and a stunning version of Leon Russell's "A Song For You" by Christina Aguilera.
Too much of Possibilities however, veers into the easy listening zone. As calculated as albums like these can be, there's some great music between the dreck. And if a young Christine Aguilera fan gets turned on to Herbie Hancock, then the endeavors were totally worthwhile.