It looks like B.B. King and producer T Bone Burnett have done everyone willing to listen One Kind Favor with their latest release, a new collection covering blues classics from B.B.’s musical heroes. Much like Rick Rubin with Johnny Cash and Jack White with Loretta Lynn, Burnett extracts quintessential B.B. throughout the proceedings and creates a highlight of the year.
They grab you by the heart right from the get-go. It’s hard to keep a lump out of your throat and a tear out of your eye as 83-year-old B.B. requests we “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” on this Blind Lemon Jefferson tune. His solo is so sweet and melodious that it’s hard not to be selfish and hope it will be a long while before “his heart stops beating/and his hands are cold.”
Another T-Bone, Walker, is honored as they cover his “I Get So Weary.” B.B., Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix all give Walker credit as being a major influence on them. A horn section joins the arrangement and B.B.’s voice gets raspy as he sings out in frustration “when my baby's not around.” Next, another Walker is remembered with Lee Vida Walker’s “Get These Blues Off Me.” B.B. presents the flipside to the story as the narrator is the one who has “gone away” because he “can't put up with you.” The tempo is slowed way down, and Lucille becomes even more beguiling. If you allow yourself to get lost in the song, you may notice the lights dim, the smell of cigarettes, and the clattering of ice in a just-finished drink. You’ll want to grab the first woman you see and slow dance your troubles away.
The pace is picked up for Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years.” The narrator is heading out the door with the music revealing a spring in his step. He’d “soon rather be dead, sleeping six feet in the ground” than to continue being treated so bad. On Oscar Lollie’s “Waiting For Your Call” Lucille sounds plaintive again as we hear another story reversal as this narrator is paralyzed by love, sitting by the phone hoping for a return that likely won’t happen. He doesn’t even care “how many times you have left me/ and you said you never really cared.”
Lonnie Johnson and The Mississippi Sheiks each make two appearances. Johnson’s “My Love Is Down” finds the narrator in an empty home, likely due to his tom-catting around because “instead of listenin’ to me baby, you listen to everything people has got to say.” The piano has a slightly larger presence underneath B.B. on this track. Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” finds the narrator wondering if the woman who surrenders to him tonight will be with him again. Lucille performs light duty as B.B. opens without her and a sax takes the first solo on the bridge. The Mississippi Sheiks’ songs find the narrators in similar frames of mind. One has to leave his woman but sees “no use in worrying ‘cause ‘The World Is Gone Wrong’” while the other doesn’t worry when his woman leaves because he’s “Sitting On Top Of The World,” an often-covered classic.
The second song that doesn’t deal with affairs of the heart is Big Bill Broonzy’s “Backwater Blues,” a song about people driven from their homes due to five days of rain, which is regrettably timely as images of a waterlogged Galveston, Texas are still fresh from the television news. It’s the longest track on the album coming in at seven and a half minutes.
B.B.’s soulful voice and the sweet sound of Lucille are at the top of their game on One Kind Favor, and leave you wanting for more. Talented musicians, such as pianist Dr. John, drummer Jim Keltner, and bassist Nathan East, back him and together they deliver a wonderful blues album. Hopefully everyone involved will do us a second kind favor.