on 21 November 2003
Good God almighty! If you have any affinity for any kind of music, buy this album! The effect this astonishing collection of singles had is still felt more than forty years after its initial release. The songs are simply stunning, and Bland's voice is truly phenomenal. Any singer who ever belted out a single note OWES Bobby "Blue" Bland. For those who have heard nothing but the man's latter day work with Malaco, this is nothing short of a revelation. This was one of the most amazing voices on God's green earth. He's somehow like a cross between Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and Brook Benton, but with the strength of all three combined. Listening to this will make you realize how right B.B. King was when he said, "Me and Little Milton, we did alright, but NOBODY could move a crowd like Bobby Bland."
My only complaint is that these songs and the album itself are over far too early. Some of the songs barely make it over two minutes, but that was how they were done in those days. But I can't stress the greatness of this album and the magnitude of its impact enough. Along with James Brown's Live At the Apollo, this is arguably the most important and influential Soul album of all time.
If you're only going to buy one Bobby "Blues Boy" Bland album then make it this one.
In common with many, I used to listen to the Mike Raven r'n'b show in the early/mid 60's, every day, early evening on one of the pirate radio stations. I was living in Kent at the time so reception was good on the pirates. Very fond memories. Mike used to go on about the 3 B's - his name for Solomon Burke, James Brown, and Bobby Bland. Burke had already had hits in the UK but Brown and Bland were pretty well unknown at that time. The late Mr Show Business, James Brown, is now a household name but Bobby has never gained the fame that should have come his way. This album was one I searched out so it's the first time I really heard the man apart from the snippets on the Raven show. I would add that its overall sound came as quite as quite a shock. There was nothing else like it on the soul cum R&B scene. Apart from one track "I don't want no woman", which was a very good example of small band Texas Blues with strong lead guitar, the style of the tracks was unfamiliar. This was for two reasons. Bland's own voice was most unusual. I have seen plenty of references to his "crying style", and, by god, can he cry, but comparisons just don't do him justice. There's agony on almost every number. Julie London and her "Cry me a River" has nothing on our Bobby! But the voice was also superbly complemented by Joe Scott's magnificent orchestra with sweeps and flourishes on almost every number plus horn driven punch for the emphatic moments. Listen to "I pity the fool". Essentially a 12 bar blues but it sounds like a mini opera.
This album has more of his hits than any other apart from the best-of's, and the track selection is varied from latin scorchers like "Don't cry no more" to slow & searing soul blues numbers. In my view this gives as good a general view as you could get of Bobby. There are simply no bad tracks. I did manage to find a few other original Bland albums later (and also bought loads of imported Duke/Peacock singles) but none of them had the sweep of "Two Steps from the Blues".
The CD version adds a couple of numbers which maintain the quality level though, as a minor and maybe greedy point, I do think that the label could have found a few more bonus tracks for us to enjoy.
Like so many albums of the period - Bobby Bland's 1961 debut LP "Two Steps From The Blues" was made up primarily of proven hit singles on the Blues and R&B charts. A whopping 7 of its 12 tracks had been Duke 45's - with releases stretching as far back as March 1957 - while three of the five new songs would become singles themselves anyway.
The five new cuts recorded in November 1960 in Chicago were "Two Steps From The Blues", "Don't Cry No More", "I've Just Got To Forget You", "St. James Infirmary" and the soon to be a No. 1 smash "I Pity The Fool" (released with the album in January 1961). And yet this slapped together long-player makes for a great listen – moaning Blues sided by a few shuffling R&B mid-tempo dancers. Here are the Pitiful Fools, Cheatin' Women and Little Boy Blues...
US released 27 February 2001 - "Two Steps From The Blues" by BOBBY BLAND on MCA/Duke-Peacock 088 112 516-2 (Barcode 008811251628) is part of Universal's "Blues Classics: Remastered & Revisited" CD Reissue Series (see list below) and offers the 12-track 1961 album plus two Bonus Tracks (singles from the period) and plays out as follows (35:12 minutes):
1. Two Steps From The Blues
2. Cry, Cry, Cry (also September 1960 USA 7" single on Duke 327, A)
3. I'm Not Ashamed (also April 1959 USA 7" single on Duke 303, A)
4. Don't Cry No More (also 1961 USA 7" single on Duke 336, A - withdrawn)
5. Lead Me On (also March 1960 USA 7" single on Duke 318, A)
6. I Pity The Fool (also January 1961 USA 7" single on Duke 332, A)
7. I've Just Got To Forget You
8. Little Boy Blue (also July 1958 USA 7" single on Duke 196, A)
9. St. James Infirmary (also June 1961 USA 7" single on Duke 340, B-side of "Don't Cry No More")
10. I'll Take Care Of You (also November 1959 USA 7" single on Duke 314, A)
11. I Don't Want No Woman (also March 1957 USA 7" single on Duke 167, B-side of "I Smell Trouble")
12. I've Been Wrong So Long (also September 1960 USA 7" single on Duke 327, B-side of "Cry, Cry, Cry")
Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut LP "Two Steps From The Blues" - released January 1961 in the USA in Mono only on Duke Records DLP 74.
13. How Does A Cheatin' Woman Feel (recorded August 1960 - July 1962 USA 7" single on Duke 352, B-side of "Yield Not To Temptation")
14. Close To You (recorded August 1960 - also January 1961 USA 7" single on Duke 332, B-side of "I Pity The Fool")
Using period typeface - the 12-page booklet is a pleasant enough affair with short but informative new liner notes from noted Blues & R&B Historian BILL DAHL. You also get the original LP liner notes from Dzondria Lalsac - as well as trade adverts for "I'll Take Care Of You" and "Bobby "Blue" Bland’s newest hit "I Smell Trouble" (Duke were hoping to smell a hit alright). But all of that pales against the real deal - an ERICK LABSON Remaster from original analogue tapes done at Universal's Mastering suites in Hollywood. You get a glorious old school Mono punch out of this album - and whilst the playing time is admittedly short - the whole listen feels just 'right'.
Beneath the title of the album – the LP’s label declares 'Featuring The Scintillating Voice Of...' - and they'd be right. While his trademark growl isn't quite in place yet - his deep guttural voice is a thing of wonder. Tracks like "Two Steps From The Blues" and "I've Just Got To Forget You" features the bluesy guitar of Wayne Barnett with the punching brass of Joe Scott, Melvin Jackson, Pluma Davis, Robert Skinner, L.A. Hill and Rayfield Devers on all manner of tasty horns - while Teddy Reynolds tinkles faintly in the background on the old Joanna. "Little Boy Blue" and "Don't Cry No More" continue the emotional misery - but I love "Close To You" - the non-LP B-side to the album's milestone and Bobby Bland signature tune "I Pity The Fool".
Great stuff and a must-buy for fans of hard-hitting Chicago R&B and Blues that also dig the beginnings of early Soul...
PS: Universal put out seven releases in their Rock 'n' Roll "50th Anniversary Series" and eleven in their complimentary "Blues Classics Remastered & Revisited" Series - and I've loved the lot. Great sound, clever title choices and all bumped up with bonus tracks and decent booklets (I'm reviewed almost all of them). Each makes for the best basis of a collection in a minefield of lesser compilations. For info purposes...
The "Rock 'n' Roll 50th Anniversary" CD Series:
1. After School Session by CHUCK BERRY (1958 Chess debut LP)
2. St. Louis To Liverpool by CHUCK BERRY (1964 STEREO LP on Chess)
3. The Chirping Crickets by THE CRICKETS (1957 Debut LP on Decca)
4. Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger by BO DIDDLEY (1960 STEREO Chess LP)
5. Rock Around The Clock by BILL HALEY & HIS COMETS (1955 Decca LP)
6. Buddy Holly by BUDDY HOLLY (1958 1st solo LP on Coral)
7. Rock, Rock, Rock! - Original Soundtrack by VARIOUS (Chuck Berry, The Flamingos and The Moonglows) (1956 Chess 'Rock'n'Roll Movie Soundtrack LP)
The "Blues Classics Remastered & Revisited" CD Series:
1. Bad News Is Coming - LUTHER ALLISON (1972 USA LP with 4 Previously Unreleased bonuses, 56:10 minutes) (Barcode 044001340727)
2. Luther's Blues - LUTHER ALLISON (SUHA GUR Remaster) (1974 USA 9-track LP with 3 Previously Unreleased bonuses, 70:28 minutes) (Barcode 044001340925)
3. Two Steps From The Blues - BOBBY BLAND (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (1961 USA 12-track LP on Duke with 2 bonuses, 35:12 minutes) (Barcode 008811251628)
4. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - JOHN LEE HOOKER (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (October 1966 and September 1991 LPs on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 79:44 minutes) (Barcode 008811282127)
5. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - HOWLIN' WOLF (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (January 1966 on Chess and January 1967 on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 66:45 minutes) (Barcode 008811282028)
6. Tell Mama: The Complete Muscle Shoals Sessions - ETTA JAMES (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (January 1968 US 12-Track LP on Cadet - Tracks 13-22 being bonuses, 57:11 minutes) (Barcode 008811251826)
7. Live At San Quentin - B.B. KING (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (1990 13-Track Compilation on MCA, no extras, 64:11 minutes) (Barcode 008811251727)
8. At Newport 1960 - MUDDY WATERS (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (1960 US 9-Track LP on Chess with 10-13 being 4 Mono Studio Tracks from June 1960 as bonus tracks, 44:43 minutes) (Barcode 008811251529)
9. Fathers & Sons - MUDDY WATERS & Friends (ERICK LABSON Remaster)
(Tracks 1-10 and 15-20 is the August 1969 2LP set on Chess in Full with Tracks 11, 12, 13 being previously unreleased - and 14 previously unreleased in the USA). (77:38 minutes) (Barcode 008811264826)
10. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - MUDDY WATERS (ERICK LABSON Remasters - 2LPs on 1CD) (Barcode 008811282226)
11. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON (ERICK LABSON Remaster) (January 1966 and January 1967 LPs on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 65:28 minutes) (Barcode 008811282325)