BOBBY BLAND: THE SOUL OF THE MAN (1966)
1) I Can't Stop; 2) Back In The Same Old Bag; 3) Deep In My Soul; 4) Reach Right Out; 5) Ain't Nobody's Business; 6) Fever; 7) Too Late For Tears; 8) Let's Get Together; 9) Soul Stretch; 10) Dear Bobby; 11) Playgirl.
We are now launching into the third double CD of Bobby's Duke recordings — That Did It!, covering the man's career from 1966 to 1972, and including, among other things, the near-complete Soul Of The Man LP from 1966 (every song except for ʽSoul Stretchʼ, a Stax-ish instrumental with some nicely wailing electric guitar licks, but instrumentals on a Bobby Bland album? That's like heavy metal on a Beach Boys album!).
And looks like it has been well worth the wait. Now that American pop music, black and white alike, had scraped off some of the excessive sentimentality and «comfort» of the early 1960s, it was high time to get back to business — with Atlantic, Motown, King, and other labels flashing hot new R&B sounds, now influenced «in reverse» by the rock'n'roll scene, even Bobby Bland could be expected to deliver something grittier than his last two records, and he did.
ʽI Can't Stopʼ starts us off somewhat deceptively, as one of those typical I-vi-IV-V numbers all of us have heard one hundred too many of, but eventually, with an abrupt key change, we have a transformation from sentimental ballad to ecstatic gospel for the bridge — somewhat reminiscent of the move from verse to chorus in Clapton's ʽPresence Of The Lordʼ three years later, and maybe not totally coincidental, either.
However, that is nothing compared with ʽBack In The Same Old Bagʼ, which opens directly with a «biting» rhythm guitar pattern and has Bobby roaring and bawling over a wall of serious-minded guitar and brass parts — the word ʽBagʼ in the title may hint at a tad of jealousy towards the recent hero of ʽBrand New Bagʼ, but the song actually invades the territory of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding rather than the Godfather of Soul, and does it with lots of verve, although I sure wish those guitar licks eventually came together in some memorable riff.
From then on, the ballads are kept to the level of «bare necessities» — and mostly take on the form of deep soul (ʽDeep In My Soulʼ — DUH!) or, for once, a passionate soul dialog between Bobby and Vi Campbell. Everything else is rigidly, or, rather, non-rigidly groovy, with the exception of a blues-de-luxe take on ʽAin't Nobody's Businessʼ (a good one, but the song has been covered by way too many people for me to value any of those versions much over Bessie Smith's original) — even ʽFeverʼ is set to a full-band arrangement, with the guitar guy trying to remember how to play ʽSmokestack Lightningʼ, for some reason. Other than the first two notes, he fails, but it still makes the arrangement fun.
Of all the originals, ʽLet's Get Togetherʼ is probably the best, a breezy sunny ditty with seductive girl harmonies — almost like a blueprint for all of Al Green's early career before he learned to make his own, one and only use of his one and only voice. Or it may be the Ray Charles-reminiscent ʽToo Late For Tearsʼ. Or it may be anything else — no, these are not «great», unforgettable songs, they all follow a particular formula, but it is good to see it tested on Bobby with all the right, tasteful, state-of-the-art ingredients of classic mid-Sixties soul. Thumbs up.
PS. One of the more interesting non-LP songs from the period, worth looking for, is ʽGood Time Charlie, Pt. 1ʼ (never heard ʽPt. 2ʼ, but it might be an instrumental coda) — this is Bobby's straight answer to ʽPapa's Got A Brand New Bagʼ and ʽI Feel Goodʼ at the same time, and even if it is (naturally) nowhere near as innovative in the musical department, at least Bobby got Mr. Brown sorely beat in the vocal department.