Picks and Pans Review: Riding with the King

updated 07/31/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/31/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

B.B. King & Eric Clapton (Reprise)

This collaboration between the blues King and his most famous courtier is a marketer's dream. Thanks to Clapton's star power, King rides into Billboard's Top 10, a territory he does not often visit. For Clapton, the opportunity to bask in the glow of the master is clearly something he relishes. In previous excursions into the blues, he has come across as both down in the mouth and overly reverent. By contrast, King makes the blues a thing of joy, never a downer. While he sings about hard times and heartbreak, he is not their prisoner. Luckily, the lesson seems to have rubbed off on Clapton, who sounds less dour than he did on his 1994 blues homage From the Cradle. Despite the photo above, B.B. King is the one in the driver's seat here. While both players wring emotion from their guitars, King proves the more expressive, making his sweet Lucille laugh as well as cry. And where his powerful yet effortless vocals blow through the album like a force of nature, Clapton has to make do with a much less resonant instrument. But if it takes Clapton's clout to make King's sublime blues heard, we thank him for it.

Bottom Line: Master class

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