Judge Gordon Sullivan played the blues, but they sounded kind of purple.
"There's just one kind favor I ask of you…"
Many people consider the blues to be a depressing brand of music, but really there are two strains, one less depressing than the other. The first, personified by masters like Robert Johnson, is a kind of death-obsessed blues, sung by people who have the blues so bad they wanna die. On the other side there are those who find the blues a part of life, and playing the blues a means of celebrating that life. B.B. King surely stands in for the latter group. That is why it was a bit of shock when King release One Kind Favor in 2008, his eighty-first year. The title comes from a line in the song "See that my Grave is Kept Clean," an uncharacteristically dark song for the man who made a jumping track called "Every Day I have the Blues. " It appeared that King was going the way of other musical elder statesmen like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, making an album about mortality in his twilight years. However, despite his apparent turn to darker material, King has still kept up with the joyous aspects of his music, and B.B. King Live (Blu-ray) is an excellent document of that process.
Frustratingly, there's very little production information, but I can say that it was recorded live sometime in 2009. B.B. plays twelve songs and is joined at various points by Terrence Howard, Solange, and Richie Sambora. Here's the set list:
• "Everyday I Have the Blues"
As a performer, B.B. King is nothing if not dependable. He's spent literally decades touring most days out of the year, honing his material to a sharp point. He could do this in his sleep, but he appears to enjoy his work so much that even a so-so B.B. King show is a sight to behold. B.B. King Live is an excellent document of an elder statesmen. King plays a lot of hits, sits in with exactly the artists he wants to, and tries to have fun along the way. That means this isn't a drop-dead essential show, but rather a lived-in performance, one for the fans.
One thing, however, makes this disc worth watching, even for casual B.B. King fans: it's filmed in HD. That might seem like a little thing to those unfamiliar with B.B.'s style. I mean he's an eighty-something-year-old guy sitting down to play the guitar, what good does HD do for him? For the uninitiated, B.B. King isn't just a master of the blues guitar; he's also a master of the facial expression. For some guitarists, playing the guitar is like having a conversation, but instead of talking, they move their faces, grinning and grimacing their way through a solo. King is one of those performers, and watching his face is almost as interesting as watching him play his beloved Lucille. The fact that B.B. King Live includes loads of loving closeups on King's expressive face is a serious bonus.
The AVC encoded transfer lives up to those expressive closeups, with an image that features strong detail and well-saturated colors. Despite some of the darkness on stage, blacks are well-rendered and noise isn't a problem. Audio options include an excellent DTS-HD surround track, as well as an LPCM stereo track. Fidelity is amazing, and there's a serious depth to King's guitar tone that's impressive on both tracks.
Sadly, B.B. King Live feels like a throwaway disc. There's no information on the cover or the disc itself to tell fans when it was recorded or where. There are no extras (aside from a "bonus" song), and at 54 minutes, the main feature feels a bit short. Because of the lack of information on the disc, I'm not sure if this was a longer set that was cut down for this set, or if King only played for an hour.
Diehard King fans will want to pick this up to see the maestro in fine late-career performance. This isn't King's best show by far, but the inclusion of some surprising guests keeps it fresh for longtime fans. However, the lack of extras and the short length of the set make this one hard to recommend for anything more than a rental for casual fans.
B.B. King deserves better, but this disc is not guilty.
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