Riding With the King is a loose and limber jam session that sounds as though it could have been concocted in either B.B. King or Eric Clapton's basement over a long weekend. With none of the high gloss or loungy veneer that has marred both great guitarists' work from time to time, Clapton and King bring their pure love of the genre to a fairly straightforward reading of a few classics and a handful of contemporary translations that seem almost tailor-made for the guitarists.
There are a lot of guitarists on Riding With the King. As if Clapton and King were insufficient to drive this bus, the band is stocked with foundational six-stringers like Andy Fairweather Low, Texas whiz Doyle Bramhall II, and Jimmie Vaughan, all of whom contribute necessary support so that the grand old men can glide effortlessly over the scenery. Throw in the flawless rhythm section of bassist Nathan East and drummer Steve Gadd, and piano and organ from the incomparable Joe Sample, and this is a formidable blues band that ultimately knows its place. Although Clapton and King have different styles, they rarely step on each other in pursuit of the heart of the song. Clapton's ability to seamlessly shuffle his tone-filled rhythms and solos is the perfect complement to King's sinewy and spontaneously fluid lead melodies. One of the great examples of this synergy is Clapton and King's marvelous slow blues burn on the Sam & Dave R&B chestnut "Hold On I'm Comin'," for which the pair gracefully trade turns in the spotlight.
King's lineage comes up often, as he and Clapton revisit the King legacy from the '50s on seminal songs such as the marvelous "Three O'Clock Blues" and "Help the Poor." On the contemporary side, there are the pair's rousing take on the John Hiatt song that titles the disc and a shiveringly funky workout on Doyle Bramhall's deep-fried "Marry You." By keeping the production values low and the performance standards high, Clapton and King have created a work that manages to touch on both of their strengths while deferring to each other's invaluable contributions to a genre that they have each had a hand in defining. Considering the length and breadth of their individual careers, it's an impressive accomplishment.
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