Eric Clapton & B.B. King: a combination that can’t go wrong

Written on the 22nd of October, 2014

Five or six years ago, one of my best friends made me listen to a song she thought I’d like. After about forty seconds, I asked her to send me the whole album. Immediately. Not doing it was not an option.

What can I say, Riding with the King is a very catchy song, the kind of track that makes your brain think “… hey this sounds good…” after ten seconds and something like “…HEY THIS IS MY NEW FAVOURITE SONG EVER” after twenty. So, once I was home, I quickly and hungrily proceeded to listen to the whole album, which has the same name and which, in case you’re a bit lost, is a joint effort by Eric Clapton and BB King. God and the King, can it get any better?

As a matter of fact, it can. I mean, it’s a fantastic album, with those two guys playing and singing, it just can’t be bad. However, I can’t help thinking that it could have been better somehow. Behind their voices and their guitars (man, they can play) it sometimes seems they’re just trying to impress a pretty girl. A lot of show and sometimes (only sometimes) not so much substance. Hard to explain, and I’m clearly not doing it right. Again, I don’t want to be too harsh, it’s just that my first impression of the album was excellent and, as the time goes, I find myself liking it a little bit less.

Maybe The Road to Escondido is to blame a bit, too. I got both albums at approximately the same time, and while I liked Riding with the King a lot more at first, I’ve slowly realized that I’m more into the mellow sound Clapton achieved with JJ Cale, with their voices and their guitars melting together and sounding as one, than into the “here I am” louder and rawer sounds of this album. Raw in a way, because it actually sounds very clean, maybe almost too clean. Both albums are fantastic, but I can’t help comparing them sometimes, and when I do, Cale wins.

Still, it’s just a matter of taste, and if you like blues, this recording is a must. Some songs from BB King from the fifties and sixties are played and also classics from other musicians, for example Key to the Highway, which Clapton had played with Derek and the Dominos and also on his own. The title track is a composition by John Hiatt with the help of producer and songwriter Scott Matthews, who provided the lyrical content to Hiatt by telling him about a strange dream he had of flying on an airplane with Elvis Presley.

By the way, at the time of the recording, BB King was 74, and not only his guitar skills were still excellent, but his voice too. It’s a pleasure to listen to him, be it in catchier and slightly faster songs such as Marry You, I Wanna Be or Days of Old or in slower and somewhat bluesier ones such as Three O’Clock Blues (ladies and gentlemen, that is blues), Worried Life Blues or When my Heart Beats like a Hammer. Talking about voices, Clapton’s one has a raspiness in some songs (Hold On, I’m Coming!) we don’t often hear.

In conclusion… if you feel like listening to some good guitars, go get this album. Classy stuff.

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