Bobby "Blue" Bland with David Owen at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, January 16). Two shows, at 8 and 10:30 pm. $35. 416-763-9139.
only a fool would ever count Bobby "Blue" Bland out. There were those who were certain the greatest living soul-blues singer would never sing again after his triple bypass heart surgery. But that was over seven years ago, and he's released three albums since then and still performs 100 shows each year. Now closing in on 73, Bland has outlived many of the critics who said he'd never survive the split with the Joe Scott Orchestra in 68 and the demise of the Duke label, yet Bland survived and continues to bounce back from every setback stronger than ever. His latest recording, Blues At Midnight, due from Malaco January 21, isn't a mere passable release for a septuagenarian legend -- it's a fabulous recording by a master song stylist.
In fact, the tastefully understated Blues At Midnight, with its exquisitely chilled after-hours vibe, is easily Bland's finest album since his 60s Duke label peak, which defined the soulfully sophisticated Bobby "Blue" Bland style and inspired fellow singers from Elvis Presley to Elvis Costello.
"I'm just a storyteller," explains the charmingly self-deprecating Bland from his Memphis home, "and I've always depended on getting good material to sing.
"Since the Duke days, you know, the songs that have come my way haven't always been the best. But this time I got some great stories from guys like George Jackson, Joe Shamwell and Larry Addison that I could really feel. That's important."
Just as important are the song arrangements and the musicians on the session. After 1955, the music Bland so seductively crooned over was shaped by the great trumpet-playing bandleader Joe Scott.
When the inventive arranger died in 79, Bland continued working with skilful orchestrators, including Clyde Otis and Don Davis, along with many superb session players, yet his recordings would never swing like his Duke classics.
On Blues At Midnight, however, Bland is brilliantly backed in the studio by the mighty maestros of Muscle Shoals -- Reggie Young, David Hood and Roger Hawkins -- who besides knowing the Bobby Bland sound inside out also have that single-brain connectedness typical of all the great rhythm sections.
They give each song that writ-in-stone quality you rarely get with hired guns.
"I think it worked out pretty good," agrees Bland. "I'd go in with the rhythm section and we'd usually get everything down in one or two takes.
"I prefer doing my vocals in one take, but sometimes you need to try it again. If it ever gets past four takes I'd just leave that tune alone and come back to it another day. Otherwise, you just end up getting frustrated."email@example.com