B.B. King, King of the Blues

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 12.28.11 in Reviews

King Of The Blues

B.B. King
The best of his box sets

It’s so easy to take an artist like B.B. King for granted, especially this late in his career, when his timing, dexterity and vocal chops aren’t what they used to be. Most box sets confuse “best of” with “greatest hits,” but of the multi-disk packages available, this one is the best, even though it’s still vulnerable to criticism. Older listeners would doubtless like even more tracks from his RPM/Kent years, for example, and fewer from the ’80s. But then, this box does include a healthy sampling from the ’50s and early ’60s that, at the time of this release had never appeared anywhere before (though many have since been issued elsewhere). In all, there are some 30 tracks here that were new at the time — a handful still appear nowhere else — and there’s still room for the hits and assorted other gems. Arranged chronologically from 1949-91, they document an astonishing career — one that never stopped evolving even as it stayed within strictly-defined parameters. That’s the thing about King that can’t be over-emphasized: His singular style was there in embryonic form from the beginning, and was fully realized within a few years of his first hit. He’s dedicated the rest of his life to exploring every possible nuance, no matter how subtle, of that style. In doing so, he’s leaving behind an unmatched — and instantly identifiable — body of work.