PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

B.B. King: Chronicles: 3 Classic Albums

Andrew Gilstrap

This is prime B.B. King, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything better, either in his catalog or anywhere else in the blues.

B.b. King

Chronicles: 3 Classic Albums

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2005-06-21
UK Release Date: 2005-07-18
Amazon affiliate

It's hard to imagine a better introduction to B.B. King than the three live albums that make up Chronicles. In fact, if you have Live at the Regal, Blues is King, and Live at Cook County Jail, you arguably possess the best that King's massive catalog has to offer -- and therefore some of the best the blues has to offer. The packaging of this particular collection is a little iffy -- it's really nothing but the three discs and their accompanying CD booklets slapped inside of a book-form box set -- but there's no denying the quality of the music.

Even amongst the rarified company it keeps in Chronicles, 1965's Live at the Regal stands out. Recorded on a cold winter's night on November 21, 1964, Live at the Regal finds King relatively early in his career, when his voice could climb from a guttural groan to an impassioned falsetto on a moment's notice, and his stage presence was a charismatic mixture of roadhouse fire and theatre-level showmanship. His take on "Sweet Little Angel" is saucy and energetic, while his rendition of "It's My Own Fault" brings the house down, but his smooth-as-silk transition between the two portrays an artist who's completely in his element. And the crowd on this particular night is incredible. From start to finish, their energy never flags (think near-Beatles levels of screaming when King really hits his stride), and they treat every classic blues lyric with an enthusiastic call-and-response attitude. Live at the Regal is not just a legendary B.B. King album, but a legendary blues album, and with good reason.

If 1967's Blues is King suffers, it's only by comparison to Live at the Regal, and only then because the recording's a little rougher and a little more cobbled together -- there's no pretense of a seamless presentation. But make no mistake, King and his band are just as on fire through each of these tracks. Boasting a completely different set list from Live at the Regal, Blues is King finds King still groanin' the blues, but his use of horns shows more jazz influence and the band's sound contains more of a ragged shuffle. The sound of this one is pure, ragged chitlin' circuit heat.

1971's Live in Cook County Jail also occupies a rightful place in B.B. King lore, in part because of its back story. According to the liner notes, King's visit came during a time of radical reform at the prison, so King's visit bore the burden of solidifying the new warden's position as well as offering welcome distraction for a crowd of appreciative inmates. The record gets off to a raucous start, with introductions of the warden, sheriff, and local judge receiving derisive applause, but after that, the atmosphere is surprisingly polite. This partly stems from King's gentlemanly sense of understatement ("I would like to [play here] again if you would like to have us back" is typical of his remarks to the crowd), although there's very little restraint in King's playing and singing. Starting off with a breakneck rendition of "Every Day I Have the Blues," King and his band don't let up for the next half hour or so. If there's one highlight, it's easily "The Thrill is Gone". A relatively new addition to King's repertoire (1969's Completely Well saw its debut), the song's performance on Live in Cook County Jail ranks as possibly the best King's ever recorded. Soulful vocals, sympathetic horns and piano from the band -- it's a recording that completely makes you reevaluate a song you've heard so many times you've probably quit listening. This one will open your ears back up.

In fact, all three of these albums perform that service surprisingly well. These days, with King nearing his 80s and enjoying the comforts of elder statesman status, it's important to be reminded that he deserves every accolade thrown at his feet. These are vital recordings, full of life and fire, and they show King as an unstoppable blues force.

If there's any downside to this collection, it's only in the packaging. The albums logically go together, but they still seem thrown together in haphazard fashion. Besides, if you're any kind of B.B. King fan, you probably have some, if not all, of them already. No bonus tracks, remastering, or revised liner notes to be found -- just three essential live albums chunked together. Heck, the retail price for the box is basically what you'd pay if you bought all three separately, so there's not even the incentive of a volume discount (especially galling since these records have probably recouped their costs a thousand times over). On the other hand, if you don't have any of these records, Chronicles is your perfect chance to remedy that gap in your collection. This is prime B.B. King, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything better, either in his catalog or anywhere else in the blues.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.