"N'Awlinz Dis Dat or D'Udda"
If you're looking for a box set that will sum up the remarkable career of B.B. King, the set you want is 1992's "King of the Blues," not "Anthology 1962-1998," originally released in 2000 and now reissued in an expanded version. The earlier box is superior in every way -- more music, broader overview, better liner notes, more attractive packaging.
King was a Memphis disc jockey when he started recording in 1949, and he burst into the national R&B charts with 1951's "Three O'Clock Blues." He made his most visceral blues recordings for RPM and Kent Records in the '50s, and those are sampled on "King of the Blues" but not on "Anthology." The new box set picks up the story in 1962, when the 36-year-old guitarist signed with ABC Records, and began to shift his aim from young audiences to adults. This music was more polished but just as emotionally rich, and King continued to make impressive records through 1983. After that, he began to coast on his "living legend" reputation.
The first two discs of "Anthology" offer 33 tracks, but only five from after 1980, only one that was previously unreleased and nothing from his hit album with Eric Clapton, "Ridin' With the King." The third disc is a DVD, "Blue Summit," a previously released documentary that finds King performing with such admirers as Joe Louis Walker, Ruth Brown, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Irma Thomas, Robert Cray and Koko Taylor. Spiced with backstage interviews, it's a predictable but enjoyable 55 minutes with elderly, reminiscing blues royalty.
Dr. John pays tribute to his home town of New Orleans on his new album, "N'Awlinz Dis Dat or D'Udda," with the help of such hometown legends as Cyril Neville, Nicholas Payton, Earl Palmer, Dave Bartholomew and Eddie Bo and of such out-of-towners as B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Gatemouth Brown, Randy Newman and Mavis Staples. It should be an under-rehearsed, over-calculated mess, but Dr. John manages to stamp his Mardi Gras voodoo persona on every track and transform the project into one of his best albums ever. The secret is the rhythm section, which digs so deep a groove that everything else can't help but fall into line.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Both appearing Sunday at Wolf Trap. * To hear a free Sound Bite from B.B. King, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8126; to hear Dr. John, press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)