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Monday, April 29, 2013

Bobby Bland: Get On Down With Bobby Bland


1) I Take It On Home; 2) Today I Started Loving You Again; 3) You've Always Got The Blues; 4) I Hate You; 5) You've Never Been This Far Before; 6) If Fingerprints Showed Up On Skin; 7) Someone To Give My Love To; 8) Too Far Gone; 9) You're Gonna Love Yourself (In The Morning).

More like «Let It Down With Bobby Bland», actually. After the success of the California Al­bum / Dreamer formula, yet another modest reinvention could not hurt, and heading in a coun­try­-blues direction was not necessarily a bad thing... well, come to think of it, in 1975 it probably was — the next bad thing to going disco. Nashville people come into the picture and while they do not exactly steal it from our hero, they sort of tug the rug from under his feet.

The only excuse for «sterilizing» production values and opting for a smoother, slicker sound in the post-Duke era was that the resulting smoke, darkness, and desperation were an excellent com­pensation. Now, however, sterile production values remain, but the depth is gone — Bobby is covering newer and older country classics that were never written with himself in mind, and, for the most part, are so melodically faceless that only a strong — and appropriately selected — per­sonality could make them work. Bobby's personality is a strong one, by all means, but whether it has really been appropriately selected for these songs is questionable.

Technically, it all works if you have sufficient respect for Merle Haggard, Freddie Hart, Charlie Rich, and Kris Kristofferson: the arrangements are deep and lush, the backing vocals sensual and sexy, and Bobby gets into the whole thing like a pro, whether or not it was his own idea. But emo­tionally, the whole thing wallows in syrup rather than anything else — so much so that even a song called ʽI Hate Youʼ really spells ʽI Love Youʼ (and is about as musically intriguing or spi­ritually involving as either of these titles).

And most importantly, there is simply no room for Bobby to show off what he's got: these songs do not imply build-ups, contrasts, growls, snorts, hysterics, or gospel undertones. They may work — occasionally — when sung by lazy, offensive, unshaved, whiskey-soaked white guys, but not when sung by a hard-working, amicable, clean-cut, and (presumably) sober Bobby «Blue» Bland. At least when Ray Charles did this kind of thing more than a decade earlier, it was novel and benefitted from the overall freshness of approach, the overall healthier climate of 1960s pop, and the overall genius of Ray; this piece, however, uncomfortably reminds of the subtly evil sides of that legacy. Thumbs down.

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