Lucille

Not Rated

While I don't like to say it, this is the least interesting King album in quite a while. Mind you, it's not really bad and in fact would be more than a respectable effort by anyone of lesser abilities than King's. The thing is, though, B.B.'s at the level where his only realistic competition is himself — that is, his earlier recordings. Stacked up against the best of those, this set just doesn't measure up.

Five performances — "Lucille," "Country Girl," "No Money No Luck," "I Need Your Love" and "Watch Yourself" — have B.B. backed by a Los Angeles group made up of tenor saxophonist Bobby Forte, pianist Lloyd Glenn, organist Maxwell Davis, second guitarist Irving Ashby, bassist David Allen and drummer Jesse Sailes. To this basic unit (minus Forte) was added a horn section of saxophonists Cecil and Bob McNeely, trumpeter Mel Moore and trombonist John Ewing for the remaining titles, "Rainin' All the Time," "You Move Me So," "I'm With You" and "Stop Putting the Hurt on Me." With the exception of the egregious attempt at imitating Ray Charles (replete with a chick vocal group) on "You Move Me So," the performances with the larger group are by all odds the most successful things on the album.

The horns — and Maxwell Davis' simple, functional arrangements (probably just "heads" put together during the session) — and quite a bit of excitement to the performance, chiefly by allowing B.B. to build to effective climaxes much more easily (that is, with the band helping him). Moreover, the horns give these pieces contrast and variety by setting King's basically monochromatic vocal lines against shifting, differently colored harmonic backdrops.

The curious thing is that B.B. sings a hell of a lot better against the bigger group than he does when he's supported by the smaller one. I don't know if he was having a rough time with his voice when he recorded the five pieces with the sextet, but his singing on the date with the nine pieces is vastly more satisfying. On these he seems much more relaxed, assured, more into the singing (probably because he's less conscious of the effort involved) than he does on the first five.

On the small-group performances one is more acutely conscious of B.B.'s deliberate manipulation of the vocal lines. It's as though B.B., sensing the lack of any real interest or excitement in the instrumental support he is being furnished, has decided to lend interest to the performances by working harder at vocal effects, at "emoting" in his singing of the lyrics. Most of the time, however, this results in a singing style that is more mannered and exaggerated than dramatically effective (and for examples of this at its least effective, listen to the second half of "Country Girl" or to "I Need Your Love").

King's a lot more into it on "Rainin' All the Time," "I'm With You" and "Stop Putting the Hurt on Me," all of which are consistently fine performances in just about every respect; he also gets it on in "No Money No Luck" and "Watch Yourself." The only thing that mars the first of these, aside from Sailes' heavy handed drumming, is the busy-ness that occurs as a result of saxophonist Forte's playing fills at the pauses in B.B.'s singing (between phrases and at the end of lines); the tenor lines tend to cancel out the guitar fills that B.B. is providing at exactly these same spots. It just muddies things up, but Forte continues it throughout the performance.

Sailes' unimaginative drumming, as mentioned, proves virtually deadening throughout. He seems content to merely pound out two and four, and does little in the way of shading, accenting, providing explosions (and when he does he telegraphs them) or otherwise adding any kind of rhythmic excitement to the music, save perhaps on "Watch Yourself." The overall monotony of his approach to this music leads to a numbing sameness that's most obvious on the small-group tracks and which is merely disguised by the horn work on the large-group performances. Ultimately, it's possibly one of the reasons why B.B. fails to come to galvanic life on the sextet sides.

B.B.'s guitar is featured extensively on the ten-minute title track, an easy, unforced medium-tempo instrumental excursion over which King provides a running account of his love for, and indebtedness to "Lucille." It's a cute idea but simply is done to death here. Annotator Sheldon Harris' attempt to persuade us that this monolog was taped candidly during the session — B.B. unaware that his comments were being recorded, etc. — is fatuous at best, embarrassing at worst. Don't read the liner notes when listening to this cut. You'll choke.

Beautifully recorded, by the way, but not one of B.B.'s better album efforts. Worthwhile, though, and a must for B.B. freaks.