By Mike O’Cull
Rodd Bland, son of immortal blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, delivers a well-executed and uncommonly conceived homage to his famous father on his new record Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland. Set to be released July 16th, 2021 on Nola Blue Records, the six-song effort looks past Bland’s many hits and instead focuses on the deeper parts of his catalogue on the Duke and ABC imprints, an approach that yielded some inspired versions of songs many fans may have overlooked. The tracks here were recorded live in May of 2019 at B.B. King‘s Blues Club in Memphis, Tennessee, a fitting venue seeing as how King and Bland were the two most important blues stars to emerge there. Rodd, a drummer by trade, did fine work choosing the material for the set and steering an incredibly talented group of musicians through it. He keeps everyone’s attention on the task at hand and lets the songs tell their own story.
Bobby “Blue” Bland was one of the greatest blues vocalists the USA has ever produced. His style folded gospel, blues, and R&B elements into something that was uniquely his and led to a string of hit records that included the now-standards “Farther On Up The Road” and “Turn On Your Love Light.” He was active from the 1950s to the 1990s and has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well.
Rodd Bland came up as part of his dad’s band and has gone on to become a known and accomplished drummer who has put in work with Memphis artists like Brimstone Jones, Will Tucker, Ashton Riker, and The Blues Players Club. He assembled a monster band for this project that included Jackie Clark on bass, Harold Smith on guitar, Chris Stephenson on keyboards and vocals, the horn section of Marc Franklin, Scott Thompson, and Kirk Smothers, and vocalists Jerome Chism and Ashton Riker. All of these players worked for the elder Bland at some point in time and that connection really solidifies the vibes they created.
The record kicks off with the soulful and honest “Up And Down World.” Taken from Bland’s 1973 effort His California Album, the track is a hard swinger loaded with horns and good times. Chris Stephenson does a fantastic job on lead vocals and Rodd pushes the groove perfectly. The brilliant minor key gospel stunner “St. James Infirmary Blues“ was first recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1961 and got a deliciously emotional treatment here that featured a mic-dropping performance from vocalist Ashton Riker. The entire band simmers tightly on this one and puts down an absolutely cracking take.
Bland’s 1977 cut “Sittin‘ On A Poor Man’s Throne” is a funky and powerful piece of social commentary that’s still as relevant now as it ever was. Rodd and his Members Only Band do justice to the sophisticated track and keep its wah-drenched soul vibe going strong. The lyrics preach a timeless message that will always be universally understood and will hit your ears with righteous force.
Bobby “Blue” Bland’s 1974 hit “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” grooved with authority on this happy night in 2019 and Jerome Chism worked the lead vocal position like a boss. It’s one of the most fiery songs on the record and will instantly set your bones to moving. Every jam here belongs in your life, so don’t miss “Soon As The Weather Breaks,” either. Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland shows a ton of love and respect for Bobby’s legacy and body of work while also being endlessly entertaining. Anticipate an instant attraction.
Listen to “Sittin on a Poor Man’s Throne
Pre-order link for Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland