B.B. King
Deuces Wild
MCA 11711
See if this sounds familiar: The legendary singer gathers the big pop-star names and performs duets with them to get attention instead of making really great new music on his own. Why not? It worked for John Lee Hooker and Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, this is King's second consecutive album to employ this formula -- although 1993's Blues Summit was more blues, less pop -- and this one is mostly rushed and sleepy.

Surprisingly, the collaborations with less predictable performers are the most energetic: Heavy D raps a fun, salacious tribute to King's guitar, Lucille, while King gamely provides the chorus and high-pitched guitar licks. Mick Hucknall, who sings so high he can't possibly be a man, is a perfect vocal fit for King's distinctive shouting-and-plucking. And while King doesn't sing on the string-heavy opening track, "If You Love Me," frequent Hooker duet partner Van Morrison uses the opening to sing with freaky soul.

More perfunctory are the Rolling Stones, who sound on King's classic "Paying the Cost to be the Boss" like they can't be bothered, and Eric Clapton, who tosses off his usual recycled riffs on "Rock Me Baby" despite a slightly slower, staccato update of the 12-bar blues. Tracy Chapman sounds nice on "The Thrill Is Gone," but there's really no reason to listen to this version above King's definitive single or the many subsequent live re-readings.

King has visited this well before, collaborating on various live recordings in the '60s and '70s with doting rock stars to break his music to new markets, and Deuces Wild has already had mild commercial success. (It hovered in late 1997 around No. 100 on the Billboard charts, which is respectable these days for a blues album.) Still, King has put out better songs and albums in the '90s -- the underrated "There is Always One More Time" and forgotten Thelma and Louise soundtrack single "Better Not Look Down" are recommended before this one. It's a shame when an artist of King's stature needs connections to be heard.

-- Steve Knopper

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.