This impressive, impeccably packaged four-CD box set focuses solely on B.B. King's 1950s and 1960s recordings for the Modern family of labels. That was a period that basically encompassed the vast majority of his work prior to 1962, though he did a few non-Modern sides before signing with ABC Paramount in early 1962 and did a few other sides for Modern in the mid-'60s. So this is basically a box-set overview of King's early career, one that saw him score many R&B hits and build a career as a blues legend, even as the blues were falling out of fashion in favor of rock and soul. As many tracks as there are here -- 106 in all, four of them previously unreleased -- this isn't a catchall roundup of everything the prolific King did for the label. Additional material shows up on more specialized retrospectives, like Ace's own The Modern Recordings, 1950-1951
. King's output during this period might be more consistent than it is varied, but both King fans and committed blues enthusiasts in general will be mighty happy with this set, presenting the considerable bulk of his significant Modern sides with intelligence. Each individual CD focuses on a theme of sort. Disc one, "The Great B.B.," concentrates on the hits and most familiar tunes, like "Sweet Little Angel," "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Sweet Sixteen," "Downhearted (How Blue Can You Get?)," "Rock Me Baby," "3 O'Clock Blues," and "Did You Ever Love a Woman." The disc titled "Memphis Blues'n'Boogie" is pretty self-explanatory and perhaps the least exciting of the CDs, as it's the most samey-sounding. The disc "Take a Swing With Me" is devoted to King's mild stylistic tours into soul, gospel, doo wop, and rock & roll, though it's usually a case of King absorbing such influences into blues than trying something too different. The final CD, "King of the Blues," puts the spotlight on his later recordings for the label, in which his sound was maturing into something more urbanely soulful, though "Fishin' After Me" (aka "Catfish Blues") sounds like a Howlin' Wolf
track with a typically smooth B.B. King vocal dubbed onto it. There are a lot of good tracks here that even those with relatively large B.B. King collections might not be too intimate with, and even the more generic ones virtually always maintain a high level of professionalism and passion. A major bonus is the 76-page booklet, with detailed essays on King's early career, the Modern label, King's early road tours, an interview with early King producer Sam Phillips
, and a thorough B.B. King/Modern discography.