B.B. King has built a whole career on the art of ellipsis. To his best work he has always brought an unerring sense of grace, elegance and, above all, economy. Beneath the carefully worked out horn arrangements, the clearly enunciated vocals, the eloquently crafted, always brief, single-string guitar lines, lies an internal tension — a quality that he shares with his early Memphis cohort, vocalist Bobby “Blue” Bland. And it is that tension which gives meaning and power to his urbane, seemingly effortless, style.
Unfortunately little of this can be heard on his latest album, Lucille Talks Back. A slick, lifeless affair, which clocks in at a meager 27 minutes, Lucille has all the earmarks of a hurried, carelessly thought out effort. The production is burdened with needless doodling (the introduction to “When I’m Wrong”) and a ubiquitously hovering organ which would have been more at home on a soap opera or skating rink. With the exception of Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” the material (half of which King wrote) simply lacks distinction. The larger problem, though, is King himself: his vocals lack conviction and his guitar work is as languid as it is mannered.
Not even an interesting failure, Lucille Talks Back is a low point in a distinguished career.