Listen Up: Wednesday, February 27, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Bobby “Blue” Bland

Blues at Midnight (Malaco Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

Bobby “Blue” Bland is the godfather of the soul-blues style that’s most popular among black blues fans these days. A smooth-voiced crooner with a ragged, phlegmy shout, he originated the style that singers like Little Johnny Taylor, Tyrone Davis, and O.V. Wright would capitalize on over the years.

On his early Duke sides, from the macho bluster of “It’s My Life Baby” to the tenderness of “Save Your Love for Me,” Bland could seemingly sing anything and make it sound convincing. The combination of top-shelf, varied material, realized through trumpeter bandleader Joe Scott’s full-bodied arrangements, and Bland’s distinctive vocalismo made his 1961 album Two Steps from the Blues a classic slab of wax, even for non-blues fans. Even ’70s-era efforts like His California Album were still worthy.

Unfortunately, the years haven’t been kind to Little Boy Blue. While he remains a draw on what used to be called the “chitlin’ circuit,” he lets us know on this, his 11th c.d. for Malaco, that he might not be quite the draw he once was. His voice has been greatly ravaged by time. Bland’s pipes haven’t deteriorated to the point James Cotton’s had on the still-great Deep In the Blues from 1996, where the Chicago-via-Memphis harpmeister could barely croak out a lyric. But the tremendous Bland roar of old has been replaced by a disconcerting throat-clearing sound that detracts from his performances on many of the tracks. A better producer would have had the singer modify his approach, which would have produced a more listenable product.

The backing is professional and slick, sounding at times like what you might hear on a Steely Dan record, but there’s a depressing sameness to the sound of these tracks, and none of the material here is strong or memorable enough to elevate this disc to the level of Bland’s best work.


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