Bobby "Blue" Bland is closing in on sixty years as a professional singer (he cut his first single way back in 1951), and while his technical singing range has shrunk with age, he has more than compensated for it with his elegant sense of phrasing and his intelligent use of appropriate melisma, a trait that any number of contemporary would-be R&B singers (who all too often seem to strangle the ends of melody lines rather than glide naturally through them) would do well to emulate. Starting out as a raw blues shouter, Bland instinctively understood the benefits of balance and refinement, and by the time of his first big hit, "Farther Up the Road," which he cut for Don Robey's Duke Records in 1957, he wasn't just shouting anymore but giving his material real emotional breathing room, and developing his gospel-informed crying style, which put the blue back in the blues. This excellent 22-track selection spans Bland's career, beginning with key sides from his long stay at Duke like "Farther Up the Road," "I Pity the Fool," "Who Will the Next Fool Be?" and his brilliant re-imagining of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues," which was a surprise hit for Bland in 1962, as well as his later hits for the ABC imprint Dunhill Records (Robey sold Duke Records to ABC in 1973 and Bland's contract was included in the deal), "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" and "I Wouldn't Treat a Dog (The Way You Treat Me)," both from 1974. Generally presented as a blues singer, Bland is equally at home in the R&B, soul and gospel areas, and when presented with a good pop ballad, he knows exactly what to do with it. Truthfully, there's as much Perry Como in his musical DNA as there is T-Bone Walker, and the mix makes Bland a completely unique singer. The bottom line here is that Bland is a singer's singer, and he has never strangled the life out of a song in his life. That's how you last nearly sixty years in a business that is always looking for the next big thing.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: B.B. King