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Back in 2006 veteran bluesman B.B. King embarked on numerous "farewell" tours around the globe, but when asked during a press conference in Brazil if he was really stepping away from the stage, he brought up the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again. Even at 83 King remains a road dog, and on Monday he performs at the Venue at Horseshoe Casino.
King tours with a well-oiled band that doesn't aim to surprise his fans, but on his most recent album, One Kind Favor (Geffen), he did try something different. Producer T Bone Burnett convinced King to revisit some of the tunes he played when he first got started six decades ago--songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Mississippi Sheiks, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson, and Leroy Carr, among others. The album was recorded live with a lean band that included Dr. John on keyboards and Jim Keltner on drums.
There's no danger of mistaking the performances for any of King's earliest sides for RPM/Modern Records, and not just because of Burnett's thoroughly contemporary fussiness about room ambience; King's voice sounds taxed, though it remains expressive, and while the signature sound of his fluid, stinging solos hasn't changed, Burnett's appealingly rickety production style is a bit at odds with the natural swing of King's music--in fact there's a New Orleans second-line feel on much of the album. But King is never cowed or muted by Burnett's eccentricities; he still does his own thing and it's sure nice to hear his voice and guitar without the slick, boilerplate production that's rendered most of his albums for decades little more than predictable exercises clogged with rock-star cameos from Eric Clapton or U2. As King wrote in the press materials, "I decided I didn't want to do anything with partners for a while. I can still do things by myself, you know."
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