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Monday, April 1, 2013

Bobby Bland: Spotlighting The Man


1) Chains Of Love; 2) Georgia On My Mind; 3) Since I Fell For You; 4) Who Can I Turn To; 5) Wouldn't You Ra­ther Have Me; 6) Rockin' In The Same Old Boat; 7) I'm On My Way; 8) Ask Me About Nothin'; 9) You Ought To Be Ashamed; 10) Gotta Get To Know You.

Bobby's last complete LP for Duke Records is a fitting goodbye, even if it was never intended as such (Bobby went on to produce an additional bunch of singles in 1970-71, before the label fol­ded and he eventually became free of the Don Robey servitude). Nothing is fundamentally diffe­rent from the Soul Of The Man formula, but the songs seem just a tad better written (or selected from early sources) and just a teensy bit more rock-oriented.

Actually, there is at least one fabulous masterpiece on here: ʽRockin' In The Same Old Boatʼ should unquestionably be in Bobby's Top 10, a hot, dark, sweaty, swampy, psycho-jazzy, almost «acid-rockish» monster of a soul blues rant, with some of the moodiest brass and guitar lines crossing each other in the history of the genre — and the vocal delivery ain't no slouch either, featuring Bobby at his most tense and strung out, eventually whipping himself up into a paranoid frenzy. This is some real shit out there, and all I can say is, way too bad that Bobby only tried this darker, scarier approach every once in a while — so as not to creep out the sentimentally minded segment of his audience, I guess.

Those latter will by far prefer the lush one-two punch opening sequence of ʽChains Of Loveʼ (appropriately orchestrated and romanticized, but wonderfully sung all the same) and ʽGeorgia On My Mindʼ, for which Bobby does everything in his power to outperform Uncle Ray, but ine­vitably fails due to genetic inhibitions (on a strictly technical level, Uncle Ray may have limited powers compared to Bobby's, but it is his rasp and wheeze that give his ʽGeorgiaʼ the edge — Bobby is just too perfect to make the results as comparably interesting). Furthermore, we simply happen to know these songs all too well to complain about one more competent rendition. How­ever, as far as I am concerned, neither of them holds a candle not only to ʽSame Old Boatʼ, but also to ʽI'm On My Wayʼ, marked by another bring-the-house-down vocal performance and top notch brass / electric guitar backing — tense is the key: Bobby the heart-breaker always takes a step back to Bobby the broken-hearted.

Overall, it may simply be so that the ratio of «dark» to «light» on this record is more heavily tilted towards the dark side, with minor-key moods and plaintive atmospheres ruling the day. ʽAsk Me About Nothin'ʼ, ʽYou Ought To Be Ashamedʼ — these titles speak for themselves, and the arrangements are appropriately funereal and depressed, and the effect is predictably classy. Perhaps Don Robey was a shameless con man ripping off the R&B scene and using the spoils to dress up his protegé, but even if it were really so, he sure did it with style — everything here is perfectly on the level, and sometimes on a higher level than concurrent Atlantic and Motown pro­ductions. (In fact, by 1969 both labels were already on the verge of slipping into the smooth or­chestrated banality of the Diana-Ross-Roberta-Flack 1970s — nothing of the sort here).

It all ends up with a brief unexpected triumph of exuberance — ʽGotta Get To Know Youʼ, with its anthemic brass, chimes, pianos, strings, and backing harmonies is a fab conclusion, a large-scale R&B dance number that should have, by all means, opened rather than closed the album, giving it a tremen­dous kick-start. But as it is, it winds up the proceedings on a surprising and promising rather than predictably sentimental note, and I applaud the sequencing. Altogether, this is all as good as it ever gets with this relatively limited, but classy formula — thumbs up.

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