Comprising singles from 1958-1961, Two Steps From The Blues is a stone cold classic of melodic, horn-filled soul blues. An early peer of B.B. King and Johnny Ace, with whom he was bandmates in The Beale Streeters, Bobby “Blue” Bland really hit his stride when teamed with producer/arranger/songwriter Joe Scott. These 12 tracks should appeal equally to soul and blues aficionados, and in retrospect these songs were highly influential in that they presaged the Southern soul of Muscle Shoals and Stax. A far cry from the guitar-based exploits of blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, these songs instead feature lots of horns, some strings, and the occasional guitar, basically the reverse of usual blues arrangements. Still, though the backing band is tight and accomplished, it's Bland’s elegant yet authoritative voice that's always front and center, and the songs, mostly written by Scott (though unfairly credited to label owner Don Robey under the pseudonym Deadric Malone), are consistently first-rate. By and large the album is comprised of slowly smoldering ballads, aside from the up-tempo rock of “Don’t Cry No More” and the swinging boogie woogie blues of “I Don’t Want No Woman.” The desperately lonely “Lead Me On,” probably my favorite song here, is more lush and is especially evocative, while “St. James Infirmary” is wonderfully moody, with utterly unique and quite creative horn arrangements. But the entire album is stellar, my lone complaints being that the songs are sometimes a bit too saccharine (Bland was a fan of Perry Cuomo and Tony Bennett and it shows) and the songs (ranging between 2:06 – 2:44) and the album itself are too short on the whole. Still, there’s a reason why even someone as accomplished as Van Morrison was almost in awe of Bland, who like Solomon Burke is criminally underrated despite being a Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer. Called “the Sinatra of the blues,” Bland was simply one of the best soul/blues singers ever, and many of the songs on which his reputation rests reside on Two Steps From The Blues, a record that I instantly liked, grew to love, and now consider one of my prized possessions.
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