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Monday, July 15, 2013

Bobby Bland: Live On Beale Street


1) Intro; 2) When Your Love Is Not Around; 3) That's The Way Love Is; 4) Love Of Mine; 5) As Soon As The Weather Breaks; 6) Farther On Up The Road; 7) I Pity The Fool; 8) Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone; 9) St. James Infirmary; 10) I'll Take Care Of You; 11) Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time; 12) You've Got To Hurt Before You Heal; 13) Sunday Morning Love; 14) If You're Gonna Walk On My Love; 15) Bobby Rush / John­nie Taylor Introduction; 16) Stormy Monday; 17) Double Trouble / She's Puttin' Somethin' In My Food; 18) Mem­bers Only; 19) 24 Hours A Day.

Yes, it does look as if this was recorded live on Beale Street — at the New Daisy Theater, to be more precise; a symbolic gesture, easily interpreted by anyone who has not yet forgotten the humble beginnings of Bobby Bland's career. Additionally, it is the first (and only) proper live album in Bobby's discography (not counting the joint Bobby Bland / B. B. King albums), so it is only natural that the elderly gentleman should choose the city that gave birth to his career for this particular recording.

Considering that, by the mid-1990s, Bobby's Malaco backing band had left behind most of the electronic excesses and seemed happy to just play old-fashioned blues behind Bobby's back, Live On Beale Street does not seem particularly far removed from something like Sad Street or Years Of Tears — let alone the fact that Bobby himself, apparently, considered these late period albums authentic and respectable enough to include a lot of that new material into his setlists. So, at least half — more than half, come to think of it — of the album is dedicated to the post-1984 Malaco stuff, lightly peppered and salted with some predictable old hits from the Duke days. So lightly, in fact, that both ʽI Pity The Foolʼ and ʽFarther On Up The Roadʼ are reduced to medley-status items, trimmed and tamed in sheer disproportion to their dignity.

Consequently, the bad news is that this is not a live career retrospective, and the album does not make much sense if you have already heard all those studio albums. On the other hand, the good news is that Live On Beale Street offers a great opportunity to just dump all the studio albums, and remain perfectly contented with this impressive sampler — all of the samples being played live, without the excessive production gloss of the studio, before a homely, receptive audience where Bobby feels right at home.

Notable curios, as far as I can remember, include: (a) an audience participation bit on ʽAin't No Sunshineʼ, roughly interrupted by Bobby when they get it wrong ("now wait a minute, I'd like for you to help me, but somebody got too many ʽI knowsʼ out there..."); (b) a rather messy medley for which Bobby drags out fellow soul-bluesman Johnnie Taylor and fellow «folk-funkster» Bobby Rush for aid, whereupon they merrily deconstruct and bury ʽStormy Monday Bluesʼ; and for (c), I'd like to be able to let you know that Bobby keeps the snorts to a minimum, but I am not exactly sure if 5 or 6 times in 60 minutes counts as a «minimum», and even these calculations are very crude. Anyway, he does snort, including on songs where he never snorted before (ʽSt. James In­firmaryʼ — almost a sacrilege, that one).

But overall, the man and his band are in fine form throughout, and clearly enjoying what they're doing here. Also, to the pleasure of all blues-loving people, the show has been released on DVD, and watching the whole thing definitely makes more sense than just listening — Bobby's facial expressions and idiosyncratic love affair with the mike add a lot for entertainment value. Ultima­tely, a decisive thumbs up here for something not particularly great, but pleasantly outstanding on a conveyer belt of smooth «neo-retro-blues» LPs.

Check "Live On Beale Street" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Live On Beale Street" (MP3) on Amazon

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