B.B. King: The Blues / Blues in My Heart

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A two-album set from the king of the blues, both originally released on Crown Records – The Blues, first released in 1958, coupled with 1962’s Blues in My Heart – plus four “bonus tracks”. No surprises here for fans of King – two solid sets of blues, with King’s vocal and lead guitar to the fore and immediately recognisable, even if these are not his finest releases.

The Blues is a collection of songs recorded over seven years, from 1951 to 1958, with a big band led by Maxwell Davis and production by Davis or Joe Bihari. The presence of up to a dozen backing musicians – especially the horn section – gives the music a real depth and muscularity, but leaves plenty of room for King’s trademark single-note solos, which come across clearly and crisply. A notable exception is “That Ain’t The Way To Do It”, which has a much rougher sound – and poorer sound quality – both from King’s guitar and the backing musicians. The Blues includes King’s R&B chart hit “When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer”, put together with lesser-known, but not necessarily lesser-quality, numbers. “Ruby Lee” is up there with King’s best: his vocal and guitar are right at the front of the mix and give the track the feel of a live recording.

Blues in My Heart (produced by Bihari) puts King into a small band setting and the company of Plas Johnson’s tenor saxophone. The pared-down band gives more emphasis to King’s voice and guitar, but Johnson makes telling contributions too, particularly with his raw and raucous sound on “Downhearted”. The rhythm section is solid and reliable – it’s also notably laid back. Bass and drums have a relaxed, unshowy, style that contrasts with King’s emotive voce and guitar. In the few years between these albums King’s voice has matured (he was in his mid-30s when he recorded Blues in My Heart) and his pleas to various partners, ex-partners and would-be partners (on Troubles Don’t Last for example) have gained a more authentic feel as a result.

Discography
[The Blues] Why Do Things Happen to Me; Ruby Lee; When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer; Past Day; Boogie Woogie Woman; Early in the Morning; I Want to Get Married; That Ain’t the Way to Do It; Troubles, Troubles, Troubles; Don’t You Want a Man Like Me; You Know I Go for You; What Can I Do; [Blues in My Heart] You’re Gonna Miss Me; Got ‘Em Bad; Troubles Don’t Last; Your Letter; I Can’t Explain; The Wrong Road; I Need You Baby; So Many Days; Downhearted (a.k.a. How Blue Can You Get?); Strange Things [Bonus tracks] I’m in Love; My Sometime Baby; (3) Hold That Train; (4) Treat Me Right (79.29)
King (vcl, elg) with:
(1) Maxwell Davis Orchestra, probably including Tommy Tedesco (elg); Red Callender (b). Place of recording not known, 1951-1958.
(2) Plas Johnson (ts); Maxwell Davis (kyb); probably also Lloyd Glen (p); Ralph Hamilton (b); Jesse Sailes (d). Los Angeles, late 1961.
(3) Glen; Hamilton; Sailes. Hollywood, March 1960.
(4) Kenny Sands (t); Johnny Boyd (ts); Lawrence Burdine (as); Millard Lee (p); Hamilton; Ted Curry (d). Los Angeles, 1959.
State of Art 81254