Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-07-05


Bobby Bland: The Anthology (Duke/Peacock/MCA, 1991) Since it costs the same per track as the matched 1998 Duke and Dunhill Greatest Hits collections I recommended back in the day, my review is mostly discographical bookkeeping. Although it includes all of the Duke disc's tracks, it goes rogue on Bland's Dunhill years while retaining the half dozen or so essentials. But in the wake of the big man's death, more is more, and by doubling the Duke picks, most of them uptempo, this accesses some major work--"Little Boy Blue" and "Ain't Doin' Too Bad" discoveries for me, "Poverty" and "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" (!!) conspicuous omissions from GH. So if you're just getting started, it's probably the right choice. If you aren't, do the math yourself. Docked a notch on general principles. A-

Bobby Bland: Blues and Ballads (Star Trak, 1999) Even though the parent corp owns Duke-Peacock, where Don Robey held Bland in servitude while compelling him to record Robey-copyrighted crap by the fictional Deadric Malone, Bland's catalogue is the usual mess. I estimate that anyone who chooses to own MCA's two early-'90s Duke double-CDs, I Pity the Fool and Turn On Your Love Light, can add the one-volume Greatest Hits Volume Two: The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings and stop there. I also estimate that the use value of his most renowned original-release album, Two Steps From the Blues, is significantly diminished by all the duplications on almost any Duke-era best-of one might chance upon. But this surprisingly intelligent 16-track comp is different. Half Duke, half MCA-etc., it showcases the Bland I've never trusted: the schlock adept, the midtempo crooner-groaner who dug Texas-sized horn sections and was fine with strings, the lover who played in the same league as jazz status symbol Billy Eckstine and citified rivals Lou Rawls and Brook Benton. And it convinces me I prefer Bland to any of them. Never flaunting his virtuosity like Eckstine or conflating smarm and cool like Rawls or clinging to Nat Cole's coattails like Benton, Bland begins by nailing two Malone songs too dull for anyone else to sing, reminds you what a mother he is with "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," and then goes cornball commando, claiming a Malone trifle Aretha Franklin took over in 1969 as well as "If Loving You Is Wrong," "Georgia on My Mind," and "I've Got to Use My Imagination." Tossing in the occasional signature growl, he relies on his midrange like a veteran fastballer working the corners and never cracks the ice as he skates the groove. Insofar as these songs can be killed, he does the deed. A-

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