Bobby (Blue) Bland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who died yesterday in Memphis at 83, was well-nicknamed, and well-named. His music combined both blues — songs of heartache and romantic desolation, with a brooding existentialist edge — and “bland”: a debonair persona and vocal style borrowed from crooners like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Nat “King” Cole. He dressed in tuxes and sharp suits, and sang with meticulousness and restraint, delivering songs with precise, subtle phrasing in a voice that had a billowy softness. That delicacy added drama to his signature move, his hair-raising leaps into a strangled soul belter’s “squall.”
His records were filed in the blues section of the record store, but his music defied genre, sitting in a netherworld between blues, pop, gospel, soul, jazz, and the sort of easy listening that was easy only if you didn’t bother listening to the words. You can hear the mix in “I’m Too Far Gone (to Turn Around),” a soul ballad that stirs in honking R&B brass, cocktail jazz vibraphone, choirlike background vocals, and a typically pensive, powerful, slow-boiling vocal from Bland. He waits until 2:24 to unleash the squall, and he makes it count.