August 2000

B.B. King & Eric Clapton - Riding With the King
Warner Brothers CD-9 47612-2
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]This is going to be a rave review, so those of you who are offended by such can stop reading right here. For those who would like to know the particulars of why I’m about to reduce myself to a gibbering fool about this disc, read on.

I’ve been a fan of both B. B. King and Eric Clapton for many years. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve never owned much of King’s work until recently; however, I do own a copy of B. B. King's Greatest Hits, which is worn out from years and years of use. Clapton has been much better represented in my discography; from Cream, to Derek & The Dominos to his solo work, I’ve listen to and enjoyed it all. Yet nothing, and I mean nothing, not even Clapton’s Unplugged disc, has touched my musical soul in quite the same way as Riding With the King. This album is destined to be a classic.

One of the reasons that Riding With The King blows all of Clapton’s previous work out of the water, with the possible exception of the song "Layla," is that as with that song Clapton is working with another musical genius. He worked with Duane Allman to record "Layla" (for further proof of Allman’s genius, check out "Loan Me A Dime" by Boz Scaggs) and here he works with B.B. King. These are two pure masters of the blues, working together, feeding off each other, challenging each other and dueling to the musical death.

The disc starts off with an absolutely wonderful cover of the John Haitt tune "Riding With the King," in which King and Clapton share both the vocal and lead-guitar duties (as they do on all but two tracks, during which King is the only vocalist). Although I really like Haitt’s version, King and Clapton infuse the song with added feeling.

Since I was so impressed by the title tune, I was a bit worried that the remainder of the album would be a disappointment. B. B. and Eric couldn’t keep up this level of playing for a whole album, could they? Yes! King and Clapton maintained the high standards they set in the opening number throughout the album, and particularly in songs like "Key To The Highway," "Worried Life Blues," "Hold On I’m Coming" and the closing tune, "Come Rain Or Come Shine."

It’s a real treat to hear Clapton’s Stratocaster recorded so clearly, emanating from the left channel, and King’s hollow-body Gibson front and center (after all, this really is King’s album). Although there is a full bass sound driving the beat, I would have liked there to be a bit more clarity to the lows. Similarly, while the drums have good definition, they are spread out perhaps a bit too much. However, the honky-tonk piano is recorded wonderfully on the right of the soundstage, and you can easily place the three background singers clearly to the rear right of the recording venue.

I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy this album. B. B. King and Eric Clapton have formed a musical relationship that transcends everything else except the making of a true classic album. This is easily my choice for album of the year (yeah I know it’s only June, but that’s how good this is). So get out of your listening seat, hop in the car and hie thee down to your local record store and buy this disc. You can thank me later.