cd review

B.B. King One Kind Favor

Sixty years after he added innovative, sophisticated textures to the blues, while helping to lay the foundation for rock along the way, B.B. King remains the most visible and celebrated figure of the genre.

On One Kind Favor, King's new CD in stores today, he's certainly not trying to compete with artists young enough to be his grandkids. With production help from T-Bone Burnett, whose clients include Cassandra Wilson, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, King pays homage to those who paved the way for him. Sort of.

One Kind Favor isn't exactly a tribute album, but it brims with songs by such blues masters as Lemon Jefferson, Chester Burnett and T-Bone Walker - artists whose works have had an impact on King.

Surrounded by a rhythm section made up of New Orleans piano great Dr. John, bassist Nathan East and drummer Jim Keltner, King recorded the 12 cuts live in the studio. Still, something about the album feels slightly tentative - and a bit cluttered in spots. King roars mightily for a man past 80, but he's mostly underserved by arrangements that fail to generate much of a spark. And the stinging wails and moans of Lucille, his famed guitar, should have been pushed up more in the mix.

The CD kicks off with a touch of funky morbidity: "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." King's vocals, slightly frayed around the edges these days, lay comfortably in the groove. It's one of the finest cuts on the album.

King shows himself to be in good shape vocally. He can't quite blow the doors off as he did on "Sweet Sixteen" and "The Thrill Is Gone." But he still makes enduring music, given the right surroundings. One Kind Favor is a pleasant, if unremarkable, stroll through yesterday.

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