365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 12

B.B. King – Live in Cook County Jail


I am of the opinion that Live in Cook County Jail is MUCH better than Live at the Regal, so Jon Landau can go f*&k himself.

Reviews like the one Jon Landau published about this album back in 1971—which was largely a very negative review—are exactly what is wrong with the ways audiences have come to interact this music. Here is a sentence from the middle of Landau’s review:

The raucous, good-timey atmosphere of Johnny Cash’s prison albums is replaced by a deathlike detachment on the part of this crowd.

And here is an excerpt from the conclusion of the review:

The guitar playing on Cook County is as good as the man ever plays: he is in top form from beginning to end. Another treat is the drumming by King’s bandleader of 12 years, Sonny Freeman. When it comes to standard King fare, Freeman has no equal and its good to hear him on record again. Finally, the version of “The Thrill Is Gone” is so good that it makes up for any number of the album’s slower moments.

What does this tell you? It tell you that Landau prioritizes pandering to a “raucous, good-timey” crowd over musical excellence, and that he equates silence with “detachment.”

Which, in a nutshell, is why blues festivals largely suck. Because the recipe for a successful blues festival is the scenario Landau describes.

So as I said, f*&k Jon Landau.

This record is incredible. The band is incredible, the songs are incredible, and B.B. is incredible. And you know what? Landau IS right about one thing. The band IS having to work. This IS a tough crowd. And we, the listeners benefit. Because here, B.B. isn’t getting away with his normal pandering tricks. He’s having to actually work at it to get a rise.

So for everyone who wants to listen to music played by hack grifters armed to the teeth with hackneyed aphorisms designed to shoot drunk fish in a blues festival barrel, skip this record. For those of you who want to listen to amazing blues musicians work their asses off in front of one of the toughest crowds of their careers, and pull it off by delivering the performance of a lifetime, then this is  your album.

Me? I have this on vinyl, with the original denim cover. So you know which side I’m on.







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