Picks and Pans Review: King of the Blues: 1989

updated 01/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

B.B. King

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? On this, King's first album in four years, the veteran bluesman takes the wraps off a remarkably sprightly and contemporary style. (You've Become a) Habit to Me, for instance, has a snappy pop-soul thrust. And—talk about thinking the unthinkable—the Beale Street Blues Boy is actually employing drum machines! Some human helpers—Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Bonnie Raitt and Steve Cropper—also turn out to spruce up King's sound. While this album is full of surprises, not all of them are pleasant. Joe Simon's hit Drowning in a Sea of Love should, by all rights, be a wonderful song for King to cover, but Al Kooper's production (this is one of the two songs he worked on and marred) is too coy and mincing. King, for the most part, is in good voice, recalling the dulcet tones of Bill Withers. Lay Another Log on the Fire and Can't Get Enough are the album's bluesiest songs. It is on these tracks and the shuffle Go On that King's guitar playing is most incisive. We marvel at rockers who are still banging away when they reach their 40s. At 63, King makes those overripe wastrels look like pups. There may be snow on his roof, but the King of the Blues' furnace is still chugging away down below. (MCA)

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