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Published: 2012/03/21
by Brian Robbins

B.B. King
Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2011

Shout! Factory

Yep, B.B. King turned 86 this past September – there’s no denying that. And it’s true that he does his live shows seated these days; diabetes and bad knees have taken their toll on those 86-year-old legs.

But when the man digs into a song, the years just fall away.

Take for instance the newly-released Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2011 album. For the first few tunes (before some heavy-hitter guests join him on stage) it’s just B.B., his Gibson, and his killer band – and there’s plenty to love.

Never one to play one more note than is necessary to get the job done, King has built a picking career around dead-nuts-on phrasing and a “how does he do that?” vibrato. And here’s the deal: the legs might be tired, but the fingers are still powerful. Over the ten cuts from this June 2011 performance, he doles out little dollops of sweetness; single notes that flutter and sting; doublestops that bark and growl.

And the voice is still strong, as well – be it the slow draw-off-and-let-fly soul of “I Need You So” or the funk of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”, B.B. King can still get the job done.

You need to remember (and appreciate) that King comes from the era of the frontman as bandleader: when he calls for the keyboards to take a solo or tells the band to “Bring it down!”, well, that’s what he wants them to do right then and there. Might not have been that way the last show; might not be that way the next one; but that’s okay – as long they’re listening to the big man out front, it’ll all be just fine. Between his relaxed stage manner, his humor, and his grace toward his guests, King manages to turn the Royal Albert Hall into a cozy Blues-&-BBQ joint for the night.

And what about those guests, you ask? Mick Hucknall (Simply Red and the reunited Faces) knows he’s in the presence of greatness, contributing a few vocals now and then, but never pressing the matter. Guitar man Slash knows his place, as well – his playing for the evening is nothing but tasteful, with a pure and sweet tone. At times, the Stones’ Ronnie Wood gets almost lost in the shuffle – a tribute to the fact that, at this point in his career, he feels no need to grandstand in a jam situation.

The sweethearts of this rodeo are Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. They come out on their own before the rest of the gang to do a couple of tunes with B.B. and those are some of the sweetest moments of the album. King coaxes Trucks into taking several breaks on “Rock Me Baby”; he flirts with Tedeschi on the vocal (“There’s a lot of spice there, huh?” he asks the crowd); he pushes the two of them to go Telecaster-to-SG before the song is over. “You Are My Sunshine” feels a little tentative at first, but once the tune gets its legs, it develops into a gospel rave-up with B.B. and Trucks swapping licks back and forth.

All in all, Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2011 is a wonderful example of an old master who is still young at heart, doing what he loves just because he loves doing it.

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