Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. B.B. King
Universal's 2012 box set Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. B.B. King is hardly the first B.B. King box set -- MCA assembled a similar four-disc set called King of the Blues in 1992, Ace had a tremendous four-CD box called The Vintage Years in 2002 that covered his pre-ABC/Paramount recordings (apparently every ten years it's time for a new B.B. box) -- but it certainly is the most ambitious, arriving in two separate career-spanning incarnations. The first is a relatively concise four-disc set, the second is a lavish ten-disc expansion available exclusively through Amazon. Those listeners who aren't so dedicated will certainly opt for the smaller set, which does a good job of outlining the arc of his entire career even if it arguably rushes through the first act a tad too quickly in an attempt to sample from all phases of his career evenly. That means there's a slight emphasis on amiable latter-day duets over his ripping early Modern sides, a shift that underscores King's gracious regality over his early work as a trailblazer. Nevertheless, this four-disc set is filled with great music and does convey his legacy quite well, even if the expensive and limited ten-disc set does a better job of getting into the nitty gritty of that legacy. Naturally, the extended set has plenty of room to roam, spending the first two discs on his pre-ABC recordings then going through each of his albums for ABC/Paramount/MCA, finding space for rare single versions along the way. The arc of the big box mirrors that of the smaller box, with "The Thrill Is Gone" popping up almost exactly at the midpoint, but the greater detail does offer a richer experience, one that captures much of King's enormous influence and legacy.