Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bobby Bland: Greatest Hits Volume One: The Duke Recordings [MCA, 1998]
His strapping young voice set apart by his trademarked gargling snort as well as a falsetto he claims he found when he had his tonsils out, Bland was never more puissant than when knuckling under the broad thumb of Don Robey, the label owner (they hadn't invented executive producers yet) who surfaces in parentheses as song-copywriter Deadric Malone. "Turn On Your Love Light," "Farther up the Road," "I Pity the Fool"--you'd think they'd always been there, so familiar are their tropes and tunes. But they were tailored to a specific voice and market, defining upwardly mobile blues in a moment when r&b was wide open. Later Bland would lean into the soul beat of "These Hands (Small but Mighty)" and the pop-Latin lilt of "Call on Me," incite harmonettes into chirping "Yield not to temptation." But postblues are his home ground. And most of the time, Jabo Starks is his drummer. A