YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Album Review

Back to Basics but Too Smooth for Its Own Good

** 1/2 B.B. KING "Blues on the Bayou" MCA

November 18, 1998|JOHN ROOS

B.B. King had the right idea. It was the execution that fell short.

For a change of pace and scenery, blues legend King took his touring band down to Cajun country near Lafayette, La., to record this album-live, with no overdubs. Just B.B. and his band, back to basics.

Problem is, the singer-guitarist captures the free-spirited, back-porch vibe less than half the time on this 15-track disc. Too often, the material succumbs to smooth, pop- and jazz-inflected grooves and an overdose of "my-woman-done-me-wrong" tales.

The album opens promisingly with one of three instrumentals, the inspired workout "Blues Boys Tune." King's warm, inviting solos remind that grace and subtlety are still more valuable than speed and flash--even with the electric guitar fired up.

Mississippi-native King, 73, starts cooking when he revives two of his older numbers, a self-affirming "Blues Man" and the angry, grittier "I Got Some Outside Help I Don't Need." A brash spirit emerges, one recalling the raw, '60s-era King who exploded with such staples as "Sweet Little Angel" and "How Blue Can You Get."

Still, these tales offer little new insight into the unpredictable nature of romantic entanglements. Making matters worse are the keyboard- and horn-heavy arrangements that seem to flourish on King's more recent recordings. Despite King's stated desire for simplicity, "Blues on the Bayou" frequently sounds slick and scattered.

Used judiciously, the piano rolls of James Sells Toney and the three-piece horn section--James Bolden (trumpet), Melvin Jackson (saxophone) and Stanley Abernathy (trumpet)--might have provided a dash of seasoning. Instead, they prove more intrusive than flavorful, particularly during "I'll Survive" and the meandering "Darlin' What Happened."

Had King, who produced the album, reached back to his dusty, rural roots, "Blues on the Bayou" might have been something special. This album simmers instead of boils. The thrills are getting harder to come by.

* B.B. King plays Thursday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 7 and 9:30 p.m. $47.50-$49.50 (949) 496-8930. Also Saturday and Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 7 and 9:30 p.m. $47.50-$49.50. (714) 957-0600.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

Los Angeles Times Articles