If the blues ever had its version of Frank Sinatra — at least in terms of an almost instinctual appeal to the opposite sex — it would be Bobby "Blue" Bland. He never fussed around much with concept albums or made much of a name for himself as a technically gifted song stylist, but Sinatra never delivered a musical statement as concise, effective and heart-fluttering as Bland's classic 1961 album Two Steps from the Blues. Containing four of his most legendary songs — "Cry, Cry, Cry," "I'll Take Care of You," "Lead Me On" and the heart-wrenching "I Pity the Fool" — the album was exactly what its title implied: music that was a couple of inches away from the blues tradition's expectations, by a man who just needs the love of a good woman to keep him from collapsing into emotional crisis. Bland's resonant, soulful voice has always been a gruff, romantic instrument, as capable of spiritual highs as downtrodden lows, and it was never more effective than on Two Steps. Even in the 40-plus years since that high point, his voice continues to weave a hypnotic spell. Bland may not be an international sex symbol like Tom Jones or be lionized like Sinatra, but he remains a man whose music comforts the lovelorn and the loveworn.
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