B.B King is one of the most accomplished guitarists of all time, has released over fifty albums, and practically invented a genre. The man made electronic blues popular, and has inspired countless musicians, and is nothing short of a legend. Glad that’s out of the way with.
Just as the man turns 87, (last week in fact) Universal has decided to put together a box set: Ladies and Gentleman… Mr B.B. King, celebrating his extraordinary career and his 50th anniversary of signing to ABC-Paramount records. One more thing to get out of the way – I haven’t been sent the actual box set to review. Maybe Universal are far too afraid that it’ll get leaked online, which considering the treasure trove of tracks and information inside it, is frankly fair enough. Instead, I have all the details, and a lovely selection of tracks.
So onto the box itself. As box sets go the packaging is fairly standard. No silly gigantic ornaments here, just a big box of disc in stylish black. Along with the music itself, there is a 72-page hardback book featuring essays from Ashley Khan and Dick Shurman and a hell of a lot of information. As for music, this is massive ten disc set. Two CD’s covering his early career recordings on the Bullet, Modern/RPM and Kent/Crown labels, then eight covering the rest of his long musical career. Overall, this set packs just over two hundred tracks.
To cover the full range of King’s music in one review like this is above better men than I. The man is a genius guitarist, blending sublime riffs across songs, picking through intricate solos with apparent ease. His lyrics are fantastic, showing the ability to mix heartbreak with a wit and sensibility in place of what could become mawkish topics. Take his 1972 track “I Got Some Help I Don’t Need”. The song is slow, and the singer tells the story of being cheated on: “And I want you to tell the postman, He’d better ring more than twice” King sings, before breaking into one of the smoothest solos ever recorded.
Where King truly stands out however, is in a live setting. On the numerous live recordings available of the man, his voice reaches out of the speaker and forcibly grabs your attention as if you were right there. It’s officially the closest mankind has come to inventing time-travel. Highlights of live recordings include “Since I Met You Baby”, and U2 collaboration “When Love Comes To Town”, the standout track from their underrated album Rattle and Hum. There are numerous other collaborations shown on this set, as talent across the years have queued up for the chance to play with King, including players such as Hendrix, Clapton and Slash.
Is this set worth buying? If you’ve never heard B.B. King before, then obviously this is going to be far too expensive and in depth for me to advise that. If you’re a massive fan, chances are you’ve already pre-ordered it. There is a cut-down 4-disc set available for those unwilling to splash out on the deluxe collection, and regardless if you’ve never heard King, you should go out and rectify that in some manner or another immediately. This box set however is a fitting tribute to a living legend. So, ladies and gentleman, tip your hats to B.B. King. A man who any music fan owes respect, directly or indirectly.
Out September 24th 2012.