Wednesday, 22 June 2016

"His California Album" by BOBBY 'BLUE' BLAND (1991 MCA Records CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...I Keep Coming Back For More..."

I've been meaning to review this fantastic Soul album probably for the guts of 20 years or more.

Tennessee's Robert Calvin 'Bobby "Blue" Bland' put out his first long-player "Two Steps from The Blues" in January 1961 on Duke Records. It was a 12-track ragbag of Duke 7" singles - some titles stretching back as far as March 1957. Universal have honoured that sterling beginning as part of a fabulous CD Series they released Stateside in February 2001 called "Blues Classics - Remastered & Revisited" - 11 titles - and Bland's debut "Two Steps From The Blues" has pride of place amongst them (see separate reviews for all 11 titles).

From there on in - the rasping singer moved ever further away from his Blues and R&B roots and embraced Soul Music for the rest of his career. Which brings us to the two albums he made with Dunhill Records in the USA - kicking off his Seventies output. First up was October 1973's "His California Album", following by another absolute masterpiece - "Dreamer" in August 1974. He would go on to make three more albums for ABC - "Get On Down With Bobby Bland" in September 1975, "Reflections In Blue" in May 1977 and "Come Fly With Me" in June 1978 - eventually signing to MCA Records in 1979 for "I Feel Good, I Feel Fine".

But for many fans - the duo of LPs he made in California with Dunhill in '73 and '74 remain something of a Soul Holy Grail. Which brings us around to this great sounding but naffly presented American CD reissue from way back in August of 1991 (reissued several times since with no upgrades, May 1998 and October 2004). It offers little by way of info but man it sounds fab. Here are the details...

Originally USA released 13 August 1991 - "His California Album" by BOBBY BLUE BLAND on MCA Records MCA 10349 (Barcode 008811034924) is a straightforward transfer of the 1973 US Soul album and plays out as follows (38:08 minutes):

1. This Time I'm Gone For Good
2. Up And Down World
3. It's Not The Spotlight
4. (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. The Right Place At The Right Time [Side 2]
7. Help Me Through The Day
8. Where My Baby Went
9. Friday The 13th Child
10. I've Got To Use My Imagination
Tracks 1 to 10 are the LP "His California Album" - released October 1973 in the USA on ABC/Dunhill Records DSX-50163 and May 1974 in the UK on Probe SPB 1088. Produced by STEVE BARRI - it peaked at No. 3 in the US R&B LP charts and No. 136 on the US Pop charts (didn't chart in the UK).

MICHAEL OMARTIAN – Piano and Organ
MAX BENNETT and WILDON FELDER (of The Crusaders) – Bass
SID SHARP – Concert Master for Strings

There is a gatefold slip of paper for an inlay with some very basic liner notes from ANDY McKAIE – a name associated with oodles of quality R&B and Soul reissues. Apart from telling you there may be some tape hiss inherent in the transfer process (a generic disclaimer on all those early MCA CDs) – there’s no mastering credits. Yet the album sounds amazing – beautifully rich. I would add however that in my ever-forward quest for better sound on this brilliant album – I bought and reviewed the "Greatest Hits Volume Two: The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings" CD from 1998 for Bobby Bland precisely because it has a couple of the "California" LP tracks in remastered form on it done by the great ERICK LABSON. They sound awesome - but again - I reiterate - despite any lack of credits - the audio on this cheap-as-chips 1991 CD is really excellent...

You know you're in the presence of something special the moment the slow slinky Soul opener "This Time I'm Gone For Good" hits the speakers. Featuring his now trademark rasp (oh Lord!) - the Don Robey/Oscar Peter penned song was issued as a lead-off 45 for the album in November 1973 on ABC/Dunhill D-4369 with Side 2's "Where Baby Went" as its flip-side. While the Pop charts ignored it - the US R&B charts loved the song and rewarded it with a No. 5 position - his highest placing since "These Hands (Small But Mighty)" on Duke Records in 1965. To say they were a bit slow to follow-up is an understatement - Bland would have to wait until March of 1974 for the equally excellent "Goin' Down Slow" to be the next single off the LP - coupled with "Up And Down World" on ABC/Dunhill D-4379 which even then managed a respectable R&B chart placing of No. 17.

So many great songs – the 'V. Morrison' writer's credited alongside Mr. Don 'Dubious' Robey for "Up and Down World" is Vernon Morrison and not Belfast's Van - although the pair admired each other and would work together later in their careers. The fantastic and frankly beautiful "It's Not The Spotlight" written by Gerry Goffin with Barry Goldberg would be picked up on by Rod Stewart (smart boy) for his "Atlantic Crossing" LP in 1975 and by so many afterwards (love Beth Orton's version on her 1996 CD single for "She Calls Your Name").  Written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Randy Jackson - the marital infidelity song "(If Loving is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right" is great Bobby Bland Soul. Luther Ingram had done a stone classic version of it in 1972 on Ko Ko Records. Rod Stewart would cover the torch song with the Faces and on his "Foot Loose & Fancy Free" album in 1977 (David Ruffin would have a go too in 1973 and Millie Jackson in 1974). Side 1 ends with the cool "Goin' Down Slow" - a tune that finally allows the musicians to spread out - Michael Omartian giving it some Piano and Organ throughout.

After the near perfection of Side 1 - Side 2 unfortunately has one or two 'not so good' tunes. The 'boppy' Soul of "The Right Place At The Right Time" is attributed to Don Robey but its chipper flicking-guitar and uptempo Brass feel ever so slightly forced - like they're looking for a hit single and not finding one. Things return to genius with his cover of Leon Russell's "Help Me Through The Day" - a gorgeous slow-paced Soulful rendering. Freddie King would also cut a Blues-Soulful rendering of it for his "Woman Across The River" album on Shelter Records in the same year (1973). "...I'm driving a broken-down car...cost me my every last me a man in a Cadillac...and I'll show you where my baby went..." poor Bobby moans in "Where My Baby Went" to an upbeat brassy backdrop. The bizarrely named "Friday The 13th Child" is a David Clayton-Thomas ballad and it turned up on the Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist's 1972 "Tequila Sunrise" album on Columbia Records. The album ends on Goffin/King's "I've Got To Use My Imagination" - a return to the Side 1 form. The brass, the voice, the groove - brilliant...

The UK wouldn't see "His California Album" until May 1974 on Probe Records SPB 1088 (the last in the Probe SPB series) - only months before the October 1974 ABC Records released of "Dreamer" on ABC ABCL 5053. They didn't even try a 45 in the UK so it's no wonder the album sank without a trace. Sure the entire album isn't genius but the goodies far outweigh the ordinary any day of the week - and he would follow it with the brilliant "Dreamer" album in 1974.

"...If I ever feel the light again...shining down on me...I don't have to tell welcome it will be..." - Bobby Bland sings during the moving, Soulful and profound "It's Not The Spotlight".

Welcome this beauty into your life - in whatever CD form you can find "His California Album" in...

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