A Tribute to Bobby is Hucknall's homage to Bobby 'Blue' Bland, a star of Memphis'...
Morag Reavley 2008-05-30
Two decades after Simply Red first enjoyed success with their brand of blue-eyed soul pop, the red-headed one returns to one of his formative influences for what is billed as his first solo album (though he seems effectively to have been solo for years). A Tribute to Bobby is Hucknall's homage to Bobby 'Blue' Bland, a star of Memphis' blues scene in the 1950s and 1960s, along with the likes of Sam Cooke, Jimmy McCracklin and Ray Charles.
The result is surprisingly far from a vanity cover project. Now in his late forties and having been around the block a few times, Hucknall's extraordinary voice has gained in gravity – deeper, more textured, matured by experience. That gives his vocals an emotional authenticity which allows him to handle these songs of bitterness and despair. I'll Take Care Of You has a heartfelt vocal against retro guitar and trembling keyboard, while Cry, Cry, Cry is deliciously hard-edged in its desire for a former lover's suffering.
Musically the album veers away from the original, with some of Simply Red's slick soully-lounge sound. Farther Up The Road, which kicks the album off, is funked up with jazzy piano and an irresistible beat, while I'm Too Far Gone (To Turn Around) starts with a fanfare of a gospel choir and struts into a attitudinal groove.
It doesn't always work. The hi-energy disco arrangement and perky vocals of Poverty jar outrageously with the lyrics and Hucknall's penchant for Italian suits and the high life – ''Up every morning with the sun / I work all day 'til the evening comes / blisters and corns all in my hands / Lord have mercy on a working man. / I guess I'm gonna die just like I'm living – in poverty''. Manchester may have its rough side, but it's not really comparable to the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta.
Overlook such incongruities, and there's a lot to like about this, not least the fact that it brings Bland's work - often overlooked in the UK - to the audience it deserves.