Sound: So, it's B. B. King and there's no questioning whether or not the artist is worthy. He is the King of Blues and to most of us, B. B. King IS the blues. This September he is turning 80 and he is still playing 150 concerts a year. With the release of "The Ultimate Collection," The King of the Blues shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. This collection of great songs starts with his breakthrough 1951 No. 1 R&B hit "Three O'Clock Blues" and ends, chronologically, with 2000's "Ten Long Years" from his platinum-selling, pop-chart-topping smash collaboration with Eric Clapton, "Riding With The King." In between there are 19 iconic tracks from the entirety of B.B. King's long career, presented on one handy disc. That's the first try to make a King comp one disc and give the compilers at Geffen Records their due - through cross licensing they have been able to include some of his early RPM and Kent singles as well as his MCA material (MCA has been B. B. King's home since the late sixties). Finally - a really good single-disc compilation which doesn't exclude King's earliest (and best) material! It's much better than "Greatest Hits" and more affordable than various multi-disc compilations. Even thought it might be not the best CD for the true fans because it's just a 21-track recording and it's not the best collections of B.B.'s music, "The Ultimate Collection" is a good place to start for newcomers who want to know what Riley "B. B." King is all about.
What you'll find on the record is classic B. B. King -- a couple tracks from 1965's Live at the Regal "Every Day I Have The Blues" and "Sweet Little Angel," his signature song "The Thrill Is Gone" (which at No. 15 was his highest charting pop hit in 1970), 1987's "When Love Comes To Town" with U2, "I'll Survive," that became his late career theme song and a fine selection of other B. B. King's hits, that painted a portrait of his career. Those songs tell his story of growth as a performer -- as the years go by, King's guitar solos become more expansive and adventurous and his voice now is just a bit weathered. You get a real pleasure listening to the CD as B. B. plays what he feels in every single song. He energizes every note, every word with meaning. There is no way that any blues fan cannot enjoy the CD. // 10
Lyrics: It's not about what he sings, but how he sings it. His lyrics come from the heart and the way he sings, the way he often changes some parts of the songs, makes you believe all that really happened to him and he feels it all again as he's telling about it. The lyrics of songs like "How Blue Can You Get" belong in a museum and that, with what I always felt was his greatest asset ?- his broad and beautiful voice -- makes him a timeless artist. // 10
Overall Impression: This CD is far not the first attempt to anthologize B. B. King's songs and it has its pluses a minuses. First of all, calling a condensation of 50-plus-year recording career on a single disk "The Ultimate Collection" is a little bit weird. And, hey, he's still alive and kicking, still playing live concerts and recording songs. What shall the next "the best" collaboration be called like? That's the kind of CD that is made when the artist is dead ?- it has a nice extensive liner, that contains notes and pictures, giving us a glimpse of B. B.'s life from the day he entered the world as Riley King the son of a sharecropper (something he himself did briefly as well) and to the last picture -? B. B. King walking away with his famous beloved guitar Lucille, only in a white frame instead of black one ?- all that gives you a feel that it's the last goodbye from the musician. Strange, isn't it?
As for the track selection, the CD is focusing primarily on his singles (although there's a generous helping of album tracks as well) and it could easily have been doubled or tripled in length. Most of the disc is devoted to the '50s ?- when B. B. first started to achieve some commercial success through '70s and only the last four tracks represent King's post-seventies output. As a single disc collection, though, you can't go wrong with this outstanding set. Even considering all my grumbling here, it is a very satisfying collection and it makes a nice introduction to the music of B. B. King. After all, the music and the artist himself is much more an important factor, than a song selection or the way the CD is designed. Here you can't go wrong with that 'cause B. B. King lives his life delivering his blues to as many people as possible. // 8