Pairing of Leon Russell and Bobby “Blue” Bland seems unusual, in that while both veteran performers are icons to their respective audiences, neither has much else in common with the other. Except, perhaps, that both employ their sons behind the drum chair. Each act performed for about 80 minutes, neither appeared to be doing anything that they couldn’t have been doing a decade or more ago.
Both, though, are currently pacted: Bland to Mississippi label Malaco, and Russell to Miles Copeland’s L.A.-based Ark 21. Russell’s newish album, “Legend in My Time,” is the latest in a series of rehashes of vintage country material under the name “Hank Wilson.”
Russell’s set switched seamlessly between “Wilson” numbers including “Night Life,” “Sweet Dreams” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and vintage Russell standards, among them “Lady Blue,” “Tightrope” and “Back to the Island.”
An interlude found the pianist-singer accompanied by trumpeter Jim Price for “This Masquerade” and “A Song for You” — both from an upcoming “jazz” album, the singer-pianist noted, though in truth Russell’s personality and unique style overpowers any labels as subtle as “jazz,” “country” or even “rock and roll.”
Early on, Russell expressed his own appreciation for Bland, who holds about the same reputation among soul singers that George Jones does with the country set.
A recording artist for more than 45 years, Bland wasn’t as powerful Saturday night as he has been in years past, but his impeccable timing (hanging behind the beat like Jimmy Scott or Willie Nelson) and taste in material — including a large dose of standards such as “St. James Infirmary,” “Going Down Slow” and “Stormy Monday” in addition to his own hits “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (the Way You Treated Me)” and the sublime “Share Your Love with Me” — remain intact.
The set seemed to meander, though Bland was in apparent good humor, and his terrific band — including two drummers, four horns and (unusual for an R&B outfit) no keyboards — got lots of time for solos.