AL BROWN / “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”
“Ain’t no love in the heart of this town,” Bobby Bland sings in that gravelly rasp of his, “’Cause you ain’t around.” It’s a nice enough turn of phrase and well performed to boot. So why do I have so much trouble feeling bad for him? I know I’m not supposed to judge music by the LP jacket, but maybe it’s the shirt. In 1974, the year Bobby’s Dreamer LP hit record store shelves, I was three. As such, I have no personal knowledge as to the sartorial norms of the day. I’d be willing to bet though, that Bobby’s wide-collar silk shirt and blood-red sports coat were the types of thing worn by men who thought particularly highly of themselves. “Self-made” men, maybe. Men who’d graduated from working hard to hiring other men to work hard for them. … I don’t know. Maybe not. It could be his tone. The emotion is there, sure. But Bobby’s holding back too. It’s like he’s putting out only juuuust enough to get his girl to come back. He’s too damn cool about it all. Where’s the breaking down, the wailing and screaming? Where’s the honest-to-goodness anguish? “Another tear drop,” says Bobby, “Falls in my lonely room,” and the only thing I can think is, “Yeah, sure.” Don’t you get the feeling he’s singing this song to his number-two woman? It’s not the kind of lyric that you sing when your wife up and leaves you. No, it’s more like the kind of thing you come up with in the process of trying to convince your chick on the side to keep putting up with your shit for another couple weeks. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Bobby’s a swell guy and I’m just fabricating all of this. Either way, I like the song. I didn’t love it though, until I heard what Al Brown did with it. Back in the mid-Seventies, Al (sometimes ‘Irving’…and other times ‘Irvin’) Brown specialized in doing reggae covers of R&B songs. Other than that, I know virtually nothing about him, but Al’s version of “Ain’t No Love” (on the Darker Than Blue compilation) is a monster—one of those records you hear once then can’t rest until you figure out who it is and where you can find it. The best thing about Al’s cover is the way he does away with all potential confusion of Bobby’s version by making “Ain’t No Love” a straight up sufferation record. “Ain’t no love in the heart of town,” Al sings, “Too much guns around.” Forget all that whining and boo-hooing, Al’s talking about something we can all understand. Kids are getting shot right and left, police and thieves are at war in the streets and there’s no peace for anybody, “from the ghetto walls to the rich domains.” Tell ‘em, Al. —Mtume ya Salaam B. O. B-B. Y. Mtume, you don’t know it, but you messing with a “G” who spells his name with a “B.” People credit Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf as the founders of urban (or city) blues, the ones who added the electricity and the steel-and-fire of factory work while leaving behind the rough-and-tumble of field work. However, the blues didn't get big-city slick until Mr. Bland nudged along, eschewing shouting and preaching for a trademark baritone croon. Bobby created a whole new flavor of Kool-Aid, indeed, he may even have been the person to create Kool-Aid when all that existed prior to him was variations on lemonade. As for his satorial penchant, at one time Bobby Bland served as B.B. King’s valet—Mr. Bland knows how to dress. What you are describing is what used to be called a Ladies’ Man. He wasn’t a pimp. Women didn’t work for him. They loved him. And in his own way he loved them. This particular Bobby “Blue” Bland song is far from a prime cut, in fact it’s more like pig’s feet when compared to the pork chops—or better yet, smoked ham—of his major work. Rather than go on and on, what I’m going to do is let this stay as it lays. I’ll come back in a couple of weeks and drop Mr. Bland in all his smooth badness on you. We will stand Two Steps From The Blues and then you will understand. Meanwhile I agree with you about Al Brown’s remake. The Seventies were that time when every aspect of the diaspora was in motion on a positive tip, and thus the music of that era is substantial, sensitive and rock solid. Back then, even the minor artists were producing major classics. More in a minute…. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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