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Eric Clapton & BB King - Riding with the King Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 October 2001

Eric Clapton & BB King
Riding With The King
format: DVD-Audio
label: Reprise Records
release year: 2001
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: Richard Elen

Image This collaboration between two living legends, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, is obviously a good idea in principle, with arguably the best traditional and contemporary electric blues guitarists getting together in front of a band of top-class musicians. The original stereo CD (2000) won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, debuted at #3 in the charts and went double platinum, so I guess other people thought so, too. But if you had never heard this album before, how would you think the collaboration would work?

Look at the musicians on this album and you’ll see a lot of excellent players, many of whom Clapton has worked with in the past. There are some additional guitarists, Andy Fairweather-Low (remember him?) and talented writer Doyle Bramhall II, Steve Gadd on drums, Joe Sample on piano and there’s even a string arrangement from Arif Mardin. And the songs, apparently, were largely Clapton’s suggestions. With this background, you might expect this album to be a bit Clapton-centric. But then look at the title – and the titles on the album – and you can immediately tell that the situation is really nearly the reverse. Clapton is evidently so respectful of King as the great musician he is that he almost goes in the other direction, choosing so many King classics that if there’s any danger at all, it's that Clapton is only along for the ride.

However, the collaboration does not overbalance either way. This work of two master guitarists and musical geniuses, their sounds intriguingly different yet perhaps surprisingly complementary, is an unqualified success, with an appeal across the board. My 88-year-old mother-in-law came into the room while I was listening to this album and commented that she couldn’t help tapping her feet, it was so good.

Tracks like "Ten Long Years," "Three O’clock Blues," "Days of Old" and "When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer" are definite King classics. The album also includes a couple of other standards, as well as some new material. There is a wonderful feeling of friends playing together and really enjoying what they’re doing that comes across even more strongly on this 5.1 remix than on the original stereo, which was produced by Clapton and Simon Climie. Climie produced this remix, engineered by Mick Guzauski. (But why is Warners doing so little, except for remixes, on the DVD-A front?) Nice jobs all round, here, with the technology of surround being largely unobtrusive, although I find the overall sound very slightly harsh – not necessarily from anything anyone has done but something more intrinsic that’s hard to place. I am sure that this will not concern you, however. Meanwhile, surround placement is sensitive and sensible.

Like all Warners DVD-Audio discs, there are hi-res surround and stereo mixes in the DVD-A area, along with Dolby and DTS 5.1 in the video area. There are liner notes, bios and other material, which is just as well, as the inlay is sparse.

With too many great performances for me to easily name personal favorites, this is a unique collaboration, distinctly enhanced by remixing for surround. It’s one of a kind and deserves consideration for your surround collection.

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