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Eric Clapton and B.B. King - Riding with the King Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 June 2000

Eric Clapton and B.B. King
Riding With the King
format: CD
label: Reprise Records
release year: 2000
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

ImageAh, yes, the blues. So simple, yet infinitely complex. The forms and music structures in blues music are very basic, but no amount of schooling or practicing can make someone truly great at playing the blues. The blues are all about musically expressing life’s ups and downs. Two men who play from the heart got together in Los Angeles and, over a three-month span earlier this year, recorded the new blues album ‘Riding With the King.’ Those men are the legendary B.B. King and Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton. B.B. and Eric trade kudos and praise each other in the album’s liner notes, each acknowledging each other’s genius. The question that one has to ask is, who is the teacher and who is the student? King was in the blues game long before Clapton, but B.B. says that he has learned so much from Slowhand that I think that question is up for debate.
This duo will surely excite blues fans around the world. Each has a definitive style and voice that complement the other very well and make for an enjoyable listening experience. Add to the mix legendary studio musicians Steve Gadd on drums and Nathan East on bass, just to name a few, and you have a serious rhythm section laying down the foundation of this album.

The first thing that struck me when listening to this album was the extreme difference in sound quality and production on each of the tracks. The album opens with the title track "Riding With the King," which sounds similar to the grand scale production numbers such as "Change the World" that Baby Face produced for Eric Clapton in the late’90s. Complete with a multitude of back-up singers, a piano, Wurlitzer organ and Hammond organ, this high-energy track kicks off the album with Eric and B.B. trading blues licks and vocal duties. Track two lays back with a slow tempo swing as B.B. handles most of the vocals on "Ten Long Years." Sounding almost as though it was recorded with a single mike in a smoke-filled jazz club in 1960, this song is a stark contrast to the opening track. This variance in song styles and sound continues throughout the album. Most of the up-tempo rock songs are sung by Eric, while B.B. takes the mike on most of the slower numbers. The swapping of guitar solos and vocals shows how different the two men’s styles are, which is the real charm of ‘Riding With the King.’

If you are a blues aficionado, chances are there is not a single song on "Riding with the King" that you haven’t heard before, but the combination of B.B. King’s and Eric Clapton’s guitar sounds, styles and voices together make these familiar tunes seem fresh and new.

Eric and B.B. chose to not include their most popular tracks, such as "The Thrill is Gone" and "Layla," which was a smart decision. It would have seemed too much like a ploy just to sell albums. Even without these hit songs, there is enough good music on here to introduce first-timers to the blues, while at the same time appeasing blues purists. The most unique song choice for the album is the Isaac Hayes-penned "Hold On I’m Coming." Eric Clapton’s funky waa-waa guitar playing on this track is as down-and-dirty as it gets.

In ‘Riding with the King,’ B.B. and Eric have created an album that covers most styles of the blues from boogie woogie to funk and most everything in between. I think that it will satisfy true blues fans, yet will still be enjoyable to the causal listener. The tracks "Riding With the King," "Marry You," and "Come Rain" – this last with its Arif Mardin-arranged string section – are demo-quality tracks and the rawness of the other tracks gives the album a nice balance. This CD is an absolute must-have for B.B. King and Eric Clapton fans and although I am not a die-hard follower of either artist, I still wholeheartedly recommend ‘Riding With the King.’

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