BOBBY BLAND: DREAMER (1974)
1) Ain't No Love In The Heart Of City; 2) I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treat Me); 3) Lovin' On Borrowed Time; 4) When You Come To The End Of Your Road; 5) I Ain't Gonna Be The First To Cry; 6) Dreamer; 7) Yolanda; 8) Twenty-Four Hour Blues; 9) Cold Day In Hell; 10) Who's Foolin' Who.
I do not know most of these guys who supplied Bobby with the material for Dreamer, but they sure did a fine job in ensuring its coherence. The dark, smoky soul atmospherics of California Album has been expanded to full length — one peep at the lengthy song titles is more or less enough to understand what this is all going to be about. This time, there isn't even any ʽIt's Not The Spotlightʼ-type material: just about every song here comes from the point of view of a none-too-happy blues guy, and he makes the best of his backing band to let you know it. Consequently, this is one of the gloomiest albums of 1974, and even if, formally, at this point Bobby was supposed to plough the same field with the likes of Donny Hathaway, in spirit Dreamer is much closer to the tense, paranoid funk masters of its era.
The album pretty much picks up from where ʽI've Got To Use My Imaginationʼ left us last time around: ʽAin't No Love In The Heart Of The Cityʼ also has a threatening heavy riff, although it comes and goes rather than stay with you all the time, while ringing funky syncopes and strings keep a more constant presence. It is the perfect urban blues anthem of 1974 — the verses may seem to simply deal with yet another broken heart story, but the refrain ("ain't no love in the heart of the city... ain't no love, ain't no pity") has a more universalist spirit, and the fact that the song became a big hit is quite telling: the whole experience is so loaded with mid-1970s decadent melancholia, everybody with subconscious expectations of the end of the world must have bought a copy for oneself, and one more for each of one's best friends.
The second single, ʽI Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)ʼ, is a bit more intimate, but the title and the related vocal hook were harsh enough to pick the public's attention all the same, and it still works — the song is assigned a proto-disco beat, but this is more for experimentation's sake than commercial reasons: nothing else here invites you to dance, least of all Bobby's vocals, as he is still capable of giving the old «she done me wrong» yarn a fresh tonal spin. One funky guitar in the right speaker, one bluesy guitar in the left speaker, quiet organ in the back, ominous brass riffs in front — perfectly tasteful and meaningful combination.
There is not much to say about the following tracks: they all probe the same moods in much the same tasteful ways. There is only one song I actively dislike: ʽYolandaʼ has the brass section in Vegasy mode, and Bobby's chorus of "oh Yolanda, why you forsake me?" shows an irritatingly cheesy «Tom Jones»-style spirit that clashes quite uncomfortably with the rest of the album — I am sure that this came about by accident rather than intention, but I would be much happier anyway to have this over-acted piece replaced by something more substantial. The other mildly merry tune here, the album closer ʽWho's Foolin' Whoʼ, could theoretically be spoiled by excessive emphasis on backing vocals from Bobby's girls, but at least it is a formal blues-rock number with screeching solos and aggressive singing — no «Vegas effect» whatsoever.
As much as I struggle to write about individual songs, I am still quite glad about this consistent monotonousness — at this point, the more gloomy funk-blues, predictably arranged and performed, this guy gets to sing, the more good it does for his reputation. No syrup, no sap, and only a tiny slice of cheese: Dreamer is one of the few islands of taste and even «class» (and I don't like to abuse that word) in a sea of mainstream sludge on the «unadventurous mainstream» pop market of 1974. Thumbs up.