Over the years, the term R&B has been used to describe everything from the 1950s doo wop of the Five Satins to the hip-hop-influenced urban contemporary of Erykah Badu and R. Kelly -- in other words, a variety of African-American popular music with roots in the blues. Arbee Stidham was exactly the sort of singer who thrived in the R&B or "race" market after World War II; although essentially a bluesman, he wasn't a blues purist who embraced the 12-bar format 100 percent of the time. But his mixture of blues, jazz, and gospel made him quite popular among what were considered rhythm & blues audiences in the 1940s and 1950s. Recorded for Prestige's Bluesville label in 1960 -- eight years before Stidham's death -- Tired of Wandering is among his finest albums. This session, which boasts King Curtis on tenor sax, doesn't cater to blues purists; while some of the tunes have 12 bars, others don't. Regardless, the feeling of the blues enriches everything on the CD; that is true whether Stidham is turning his attention to Big Joe Turner's "Last Goodbye Blues" or revisiting his 1948 hit, "My Heart Belongs to You." Equally triumphant is Brownie McGhee's "Pawn Shop," which is associated with Piedmont country blues but gets a big-city makeover from Stidham. Like Jimmy Witherspoon -- someone he inspires comparisons to -- Stidham demonstrates that the blues can be sophisticated, polished, and jazz-influenced without losing their grit. The big-voiced singer/guitarist was born in Arkansas, but Chicago was his adopted home -- and the Windy City had a definite influence on his work. Anyone who has spent a lot of time savoring jazz-influenced bluesmen like Witherspoon and Percy Mayfield owes it to himself/herself to give Tired of Wandering a very close listen.
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