BOBBY BLAND: AIN'T NOTHING YOU CAN DO (1964)
1) Ain't Nothing You Can Do; 2) If I Hadn't Called You Back; 3) Today; 4) Steal Away; 5) After It's Too Late; 6) I'm Gonna Cry; 7) Loneliness Hurts; 8) When You Put Me Down; 9) If You Could Read My Mind; 10) Reconsider Baby; 11) Black Night; 12) Blind Man.
The title track here was Bobby's highest entry into the pop charts — hitting No. 20 at just about the same time The Beatles finally broke through in the States, ensuring that nothing else by Bobby Bland would ever hit No. 19 from now on. It is a fairly successful attempt to cast Bobby as an upbeat romantic R&B troubadour in the vein of Arthur Alexander (and Bobby sure can make use of all those extra decibels), and a good example of a careful build-up strategy — with not only the voice, but the repetitive brass backing as well gaining in pitch and volume as time goes by. Van Morrison, at least, was impressed enough to cover the song a decade later.
Nevertheless, the whole thing in general is rather standard Bobby fare for the times, with almost no big surprises, no saddening letdowns, and nothing all that much to distinguish Bobby "Blue" Bland circa 1964 from Bobby "Blue" Bland circa 1963. The one real highlight, to me, is not even the title track, but Bobby's rendition of Charles Brown's ʽBlack Nightʼ — arguably better than the original, or any other version of the song that exists: Arthur Alexander's sped-up recording, for instance, accidentally drained it of all the dread and desperation — whereas Bobby's version, with tense 'n' subtle guitar 'n' piano backing, really puts the «black» in the «night», if you know what I mean. It is just such a goddamn pity how Bobby was primarily concentrating on «happier» material at the time, because it is stuff like ʽBlack Nightʼ, really, that brings out the finest qualities in his voice — including just a tinge of genuine spookiness, one that separates him lock stock and barrel from the crowds of crass lounge lizards.
The B-side of ʽBlack Nightʼ was ʽBlind Manʼ, which closes the album on a relatively «rocking» note, dark bassline, screeching guitar, hysterical vocals and all — incidentally, that way the record ends in a much darker, «harder» vein than it began, however, the main bulk of the songs still consists of pleasant, light-spirited, quickly forgettable R&B, destined for rapid consumption and moving on, helping to promote that fairly stereotypical picture of pre-British Invasion mainstream American pop entertainment that we are fed by our musical history books. The more accurate truth, of course, is that it is simply more difficult to go fishing for pearls in that age — the payoff is still there, as evidenced by ʽAin't Nothing You Can Doʼ and ʽBlack Nightʼ, but nobody really has to endure all the «pleasant mediocrity» in between.