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King refuses to slow down

Deuces Wild
Deuces Wild
By B.B. King

MCA Records: 1997

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This review first appeared in the November 15, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

If you're looking for new wisdom or insight into B.B. King, you'll not find it in this review.

Ah, but listen to his new album and you'll find plenty. At an age when most men are retiring, B.B. continues to push himself, to explore new territory. Just check out the opening notes on his new album, "Deuces Wild," and you'll be converted. On a duet with Van Morrison, King's guitar intro distills both the essence of Morrison's compositional themes and his own trademark blues sound.

Like his last album, "Blues Summit," the newest is also a collection of duets. But while "Summit" paired King with other blues stars, artists such as Koko Taylor and Robert Cray, "Deuces Wild" ventures into the John Lee Hooker / Frank Sinatra arena of matching an elder statesmen with whatever pop artists could be rounded up on short notice.

So as good as the duet with Morrison is, songs with Simply Red's Mick Hucknall or rock star Eric Clapton just don't go anywhere. Even a cover of King's classic "Paying the Cost to Be The Boss" with the Rolling Stones falls flat.

On the other hand, there are some wonderful surprises. Tracy Chapman shows a soulfulness hardly hinted at on her pop stuff with a rousing treatment of "The Thrill Is Gone," and country singer Marty Stuart absolutely clicks on "Confessin' the Blues."

And there are the expected successes: duets with Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson and Joe Cocker.

Which leaves us with the oddest moment of the album: A song with rapper Heavy D (who charmingly and respectfully refers to King as "sir" on a spoken intro). King never seems quite in sync with D, but give both men credit for trying something different. And D's sly lyrics about trying to steal Lucille's love ought to generate a couple smiles.

And that's what makes this release so rewarding: King never sits on his laurels; he keeps pushing, keeps trying new stuff. Retirement? Heck, he isn't even slowing down.