Sunday, June 11, 2000

King, Clapton put personal stamp on blues standards

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Eric Clapton and B.B. King have known each other since the '60s, but this is their first full album together.

        Good thing they waited. At 55 and 74, respectively, with nothing left to prove, they were ready to make this 12-song CD a true collaboration.

        The result is a satisfyingly laid-back mix of classic blues (mostly from Mr. King's 50 years of hits) and new blues-styled songs that showcase the pair's contrasting, yet complementary, styles.

        The set opens to the strut of John Hiatt's “Riding With the King” (Elvis, not B.B.), then gets down to the real blues. On “Ten Long Years” (a 1955 hit by Mr. King), Mr. Clapton launches barrages of guitar, while Mr. King punctuates with stinging notes. Joe Sample's swirling piano completes the classic effect.

        Big Bill Broonzy's “Key to the Highway,” a Clapton mainstay, is “unplugged.” So is Big Maceo's even more relaxed “Worried Life Blues,” which sounds as if these icons were playing on the porch until the ribs were ready.

        “Three O'Clock Blues,” Mr. King's 1951 No. 1 hit, gets royal treatment in almost nine minutes of passionate singing and emotional guitar. “Help the Poor,” a 1971 King hit, features Mr. Clapton's finest singing here.

        The set ends with two very different standards — the Memphis soul of Hayes/Porter's “Hold On I'm Coming” and the classic pop of Mercer/Arlen's “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Both showcase the stars' genuine rapport.

        The only orange barrels on this blues highway are the bland blues-rockers, “Marry You” and “I Wanna Be,” by guitarist Doyle Bramhall II. Otherwise, Riding With the King is one first-class ticket.


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