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Monday, July 29, 2013

Bobby Bland: Blues At Midnight

BOBBY BLAND: BLUES AT MIDNIGHT (2003)

1) Where Do I Go From Here; 2) I Caught The Blues From Someone Else; 3) You Hit The Nail On The Head; 4) I've Got The Blues At Midnight; 5) Baby What's Wrong With You; 6) What A Wonderful World; 7) My Sunday's Co­min' Soon; 8) This Man-Woman Thing; 9) The Only Thing Missing Is You; 10) I'm A Blues Man; 11) Ghetto Nights.

Old age finally caught up with Mr. Bland at the turn of the millennium: Blues At Midnight was his first new album in five years rather than two (the usual interval for his entire life at Malaco), and, as fate would have it, his last album altogether — it was certainly not intended to be a swan song, but the next ten years of Bobby's life were spent without further ventures to the recording studio. Kind of ominously ironic, then, that the first song on his last album just had to be titled ʽWhere Do I Go From Hereʼ — verily and indeed ever so.

In fact, the shadow of the nearing end does loom over the entire record, and, when seen from that angle, Blues At Midnight may end up looking like the most interesting, touching, and thought-provoking record of Bobby's entire post-1970s career. As long as he was still relatively hale and hardy, and set up with a low-budget, but solid 'n' steady recording contract, he had little to care about other than recording whatever came his way, as long as it had that beat and gave him plenty of room to insert an explosive snort or two. Now that he has bypassed that 70-year-old mark be­yond which even Mick Jagger starts having problems, it almost feels, subconsciously, as if his next record were an attempt at summarizing something — and even though all the songs, as usual, are credited to his corporate songwriting team, they must have caught that hint, and made sure that Blues At Midnight, in many ways, sounded like some sort of a last confession.

Formally, ʽWhere Do I Go From Hereʼ is just another blues lament on lost love topics, but Bobby delivers it with just a little more tension than usual, and the brass / organ / guitar / backing vocals combo seems ready to assist him as best they can. Later on, three of the tracks feature the word «blues» in the title — a record-breaking streak for Bobby — and they are all meaningful: ʽI Caught The Blues From Someone Elseʼ is a bitter rocker that examines the roots of getting into the business (well, not really, but could be...); ʽI've Got The Blues At Midnightʼ is a passable, but 100%-Bobby interpretation of what the blues is all about (12:00 A.M., and you're still not getting any); and ʽI'm A Blues Manʼ, starting off with slide guitar, harmonica, our favorite snort, and "I was raised up on Jimmy Reed" (what? you were a contemporary of Jimmy Reed, Bobby!), is a kind of tune that Bobby never really tried before — this sort of semi-authentic swamp-blues was almost as far removed from his brand of blues-de-luxe as, say, heavy metal. All the more curious to see him try and assert this legacy thus late in his career — with a direct invocation of the spirits of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and the rest.

The «magnum opus» of the album, however, is its last track. ʽGhetto Nightsʼ is a slow, moody shuffle, very much in the vein of Bobby's mid-1970s «blacksploitation» period, with similar pro­duction and socially-oriented sentimentalism, and suitably loaded with atmospheric overdubs (such as the superimposition of a police radio transcript to simulate an actual ghetto environment). There is no attempt at a universalist statement here, such as on ʽSad Streetʼ, and, in fact, the lyrics do not even directly deal with issues of poverty / crime / etc., but this only helps the track gain in subtlety — it may not be a masterpiece, but it is one of the moodiest, bleakest-sounding things Bobby had the luck to record ever since his image-makers in the late 1970s decided that «dark» and «shivery» are unsuitable epithets for suave ladies' man Bobby B.

I guess I should stress that none of these songs are genuine masterpieces (as usual, they are too generic and middle-of-the-road for that), and that there is plenty of completely routine filler as well, let alone the irritating detail that Bobby really takes his time while stretching out on the coda to almost every one of these songs: only a (rather shaky) cover of ʽWhat A Wonderful Worldʼ sticks to a three-minute length — everything else, for some reason, must have from one to two or three extra minutes of Bobby trading signal calls with his female backing vocalists across the studio hall, even such dumb 12-bar exercises as ʽYou Hit The Nail On The Headʼ (and you did it so many times, Bobby, that little remains of the hammer, much less the nail).

Still, I would like to end this with a thumbs up — not merely out of general respect for the recently deceased Bobby B., but continuing to insist that Blues At Midnight is moving and mea­ningful (in spots), not to mention that Bobby's vocal abilities remain almost completely un­im­paired to the very end. Whether there is some sort of uncomfortably intriguing premonition here or not, is up to you to decide — but, as far as my own sixth sense is concerned, the record rises just one small inch above mere routine professionalism, and that is enough to recommend it.


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