This week will see the release of Mick Hucknall’s first ever solo project outside of his hugely successful band ‘Simply Red.’ The cd is called Tribute to Bobby and if you’re wondering who Bobby is – it’s Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. If you’ve never even heard of Bobby Bland, that’s still okay because basically, that is the whole mission statement behind this record.
Bobby Bland has enjoyed only moderate fame in his career despite the fact that he has had more than 30 R&B hits in the Top 20 and for the past four decades has been playing live dates consistently, often as many as 300 in a year. He started out in the ‘Beale Streeters’ with B.B.King but eventually landed a recording contract of his own. Bland’s sound would evolve from very basic blues ‘shouting’ to a unique and heady blend of sophisticated, emotive phrasing – featuring the kind of sincerity you’d expect from Nat King Cole – and then sifted his own gospel and R&B flavor into the mix. Bland’s songs delve into the dark regions of loneliness, hurt and betrayal and this sensitivity separated and elevated his music from the other blues artists of his time. The inherent sweetness of Bland’s voice was also extremely appealing, especially to women. Yet in spite of all of this – and the open admiration of other top artists like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton – Bobby Bland remains much less known than he should be.
Enter Mick Hucknall. Tribute to Bobby is a solo project designed to showcase his hero’s talent as well as a nod to the influence that he has had on Hucknall’s work. The deluxe album set includes a documentary DVD as well as the CD and extensive liner notes. I must admit that as a careful listener, I felt the need to return to the older, original Bland material in order to prove why these first recordings would be vastly superior; however, even though there is a pronounced difference in the tempo (producer Andy Wright explains in the documentary that the blues format was altered purposefully in order to render the songs more contemporary) Hucknall’s interpretations are extremely thoughtful, passionate and intuitive. The overall production is smooth but remains faithful to Bland – you can still hear lots of brass – but it’s a fresh new take for a different time. And it works.
B.B. King, also featured on the DVD, summarizes brilliantly: “Mick does it … it’s like he’s talking to you.” Bland also lends his approval to the project, calling it “very, very good.” Bobby Bland is also a master of few words when addressing his own abilities. He simply shrugs “If I can feel it, I try to make you feel it too.” In one sentence, he has captured the vocation of every artist, poet, painter and writer throughout time.
Here is a track listing for the album:
1. Farther Up The Road
2. Ain’t That Lovin’ You
3. I’m Too Far Gone (To Turn Around)
6. Stormy Monday Blues
7. I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)
8. I’ll Take Care of You
9. Chains of Love
10. I Pity The Fool
11. Cry, Cry, Cry
12. Lead Me On
Every track on Tribute has the potential to be habit forming, but I must make special mention of I’ll Take Care of You and Lead Me On.Be careful where you are when you listen to these songs. Only by chance was I alone in my own kitchen – admittedly, in front of a slightly mystified dog – when I was actually forced to lean on the counter and weep (hardened, crusty cynic that I am) from Hucknall’s heartfelt, earnest phrasing. You have been warned. (Also highly recommended listening in the aftermath of resolved arguments …)
The only track that loses something in translation for me is the brilliant Stormy Monday which is far superior as a blues song. (Although having said that, this was one update that Bobby Bland himself was particularly impressed by). Purist blues fans unfamiliar with Bland’s style or those who don’t appreciate the whole R&B/soul treatment may roil against other songs for similar reasoning, but listen with an open mind.
What Mick Hucknall has already achieved by making Tribute to Bobby – whether it becomes a commercial darling or not – is to draw new attention to music that he truly loves himself. Presumably, at forty seven years of age Hucknall has received the mid life paperwork about life being finite – not only for himself but for Bobby Bland too, who is already nearly eighty years old. Using his considerable reputation to introduce Bobby to an entirely new generation is an act of generosity and musical integrity, and comes not a minute too soon.
You can listen to some of these amazing tunes below to see just how good they are!
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