A few years ago I wouldn’t have written a critic’s choice on Bobby “Blue” Bland. He sounded as if he’d abused his pipes past the point of no return; his trademark gospel squall had degenerated into an obscene snort; and he might have phoned in his performances for all the emotional commitment he showed. Recently, though, Bland has shown signs of rejuvenation. His easygoing intimacy can still warm up a room, and despite the toll the years have taken on his voice, (the squall should be put out to pasture, but it sounds as if its already there), few modern blues singers can wrap themselves around a ballad of such a masterful combination of confidence and vulnerability. Bland is a strangely conservative performer: songs, instrumental arrangements, even spoken asides and extremoraneous embellishments are carefully worked out in advance, giving his shows a feel of either comfortable familiarity or mechanical impersonality, depending on the singer’s mood. At his best, though, Bland evokes a blues era when romanticism and grit lay comfortably side by side; his relaxed charm could be a lesson to some of today’s hyperkinetic, ego-drenched macho strutters. Saturday, 9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Edward Lines Jr..