Having already produced one all-star duets album myself, I know firsthand the nightmare of logistics, politics and disappointments that go down in putting such a project together. With a bevy of big name pop stars onboard, B.B. King's Deuces Wild (MCA 11711; 61:37) must've been quite the exasperating endeavor. But then, folks were probably lining up to be on this record, given B.B.'s powerful cachet in the industry and in the hearts of most musicians. Yes, it's good to be king (of the blues).
The template for this all-star outing was undoubtedly Sinatra's Duets project of 1993. And there are some very nice moments here indeed, like Tracy Chapman's duet with B.B. on a smoky rendition of "The Thrill Is Gone," Willie Nelson's sweet blend on his own melancholy opus, "Night Life," the roughhouse rendition of Jay McShann's "Confessin' The Blues" with honky tonker Marty Stuart and the relaxed shuffle with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour on "Cryin' Won't Help You Babe." But there are some weak links as well. Riley B. sings his heart out on the Percy Mayfield classic, "Please Send Me Someone To Love." Unfortunately, he's paired on this tune with Mick Hucknall, lead singer of the pop group Simply Red. Gladys Knight would've been a better choice. Hell, Richard Simmons would've been a better choice.
Dr. John does a lively, uptempo N'awlins treatment of a tune he wrote for B.B. years ago, "There Must Be A Better World Somewhere," the title track of a 1981 album. Sounded better as a ballad, Mac. "Ain't Nobody Home," a groovy R&B track with D'Angelo, sounds like vintage Al Green material. So why not Al Green? And Van Morrison must've had it in his contract that he would appear only on the condition that B.B. not sing on the same track (and therefore blow him completely away).
On the brighter side, Bonnie Raitt holds her own in typically soulful fashion on the Aretha Franklin vehicle "Baby I Love You" and Mick & The Boys (The Stones, you know) turn in a suitably motley version of "Payin' The Cost To Be The Boss." Eric Clapton throws in some incisive B.B.-inspired licks on an unfortunate updating (i.e. heavy backbeats) of the classic "Rock Me Baby" and Joe Cocker wails with signature rasp on "Dangerous Mood." For a complete change of pace from the blues, rapper Heavy D does his thing on the token urban contemporary track "Keep It Coming," which features some of Lucille's most impassioned statements. By now, of course, all of B.B.'s licks are blues clich s. But this here is the guy who invented them. At 72, he's sounding like a pretty spry six-stringer. And vocally he has only gotten better (rawer) with age. No one can touch him in that department.