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I recently got a chance to hear some of the rough tracks from Sara Renner‘s upcoming record, for which Michael Bland played all the drums. Oh man. That guy is so good. Hearing his playing on Sara’s music prompted me to revisit the latest Jonny Lang record, Turn Around, which also features Bland on drums, and is now the AOTW for this week. Turn Around is currently one of my favorite albums, and definitely Lang’s best so far. But, if you’re looking for a standard review of the record, then click here, because this post is going to be about Bland.
Michael Bland is known for basically one thing: Solid. Other appropriate descriptions would be words like “precise,” “exact,” and “perfect.” Nowhere is that more evident than on Turn Around. Bland’s grooves and fills are so tightly and cleanly executed that it literally sounds… well, perfect. BUT, he can also pull out some sick chops whenever he wants to, and the cool thing about Turn Around is that Bland delivers a heavy dose of BOTH the solid and the chops. Nice.
Take, for instance, the 3rd track on the album, “One Person At A Time.” The shuffle feel is so crisp, but Bland also manages to drop in some very cool ideas… ideas that are NOT easy to play. You can really tell that playing a deep shuffle doesn’t take every ounce of his focus, and he’s able to easily throw curve balls of all kinds into the mix while not sacrificing any of his trademark precision.
Also noteworthy is Bland’s approach on “Thankful.” Listen carefully to this one, and notice how he doesn’t bother with any cymbals other than the hats for the whole track. No crashes, no ride… nothing but hats. The song just relaxes in the thick gospel 4 on the floor that Bland is throwing down, and nothing else is needed.
And then there’s the final track, “It’s Not Over,” where Bland lays out the deepest swung 6/8 cross-stick groove that anybody’s ever heard, and proceeds to mercilessly drive through every rudiment he knows at the tune’s closing. Honestly, I’ve never heard anybody be so grooving and so busy on the same track. It’s refreshing.
I’m gonna try and track down a few more albums that Michael Bland plays on, and I bet they’ll soon make their way into Album of the Week fame. Until then, go get Turn Around and listen to it 20 times in a row. AND, if you’re a Twin Cities local, you can see Bland playing every Monday night at Bunkers with a really great funk cover band called Dr. Mambo’s Combo.