14 tracks/62 minutes
Step back in time with Duke Robillard And his Dames of Rhythm. Conceived by Duke and label owner Mark Carpentieri, an album of 20’s and 30’s songs with a horn and rhythm section, an acoustic archtop guitar and female vocalists became the solidified plan. Duke claims this was on his bucket list; if there are other things on it that are this cool I hope he also produces them soon because this is a gem!
Duke is playing an 18” archtop JW Murphy for most of the set. He switches to a smaller 17” for a few cuts and a 1930 Kays Deluxe for the final cut. The arrangements are suave, cool, debonair and oh-so-slick. The Dames on vocals are spectacular. They are Sunny Crownover, Kelley Hunt, Elizabeth McGovern, Maria Muldaur, Madeline Peyroux, and Catherine Russell. Dukes band and rhythm section are Bruce Bears and Kelley Hunt sharing the piano duties, Brad Hallen on acoustic bass, and Mark Texiera on drums. They are as solid as ever. The horn section is Jon Erik Kellso (trumpet on all tracks), Billy Novick (clarinet and alto sax), Rick Lataille (alto and tenor sax and clarinet), Carl Querfurth (trombone) and Mark Early (tenor sax on track 3). These guys are superb!
Out of the gate, we get Sunny singing on “From Monday On.” The trumpet leads us in and then the horns and Sunny join in the fray on this old, great Bing Crosby tune. It swings and jives sweetly. Duke comes in for a little cool duet action part way into it- very hep. His first guitar solo tells us this is going to be fun- different, as this is not blues or even the swing we are accustomed to from him. It’s old, straight up stuff from the early big band era with crooners and the horn and rhythm sections in full plumage. Muldaur growls and purrs out “Got The South In My Soul” next. Her breathy and sultry approach is enchanting and cool. The clarinet gets the first solo and then Duke joins in. Very sweet stuff! “Please Don’t Talk About Me when I’m Gone” features Kelly Hunt pacing the vocals nicely as Duke strums and picks along with her. The first half is down tempo and stark as some restrained piano plays along; the tempo picks up a bit as the horn and rhythm section come in for some instrumental fun and then Hunt joins back into the fray for a big finish. Fats Waller’s “Squeeze Me” is up next with Madeline fronting the band. Her approach is sort of Blossum Dearie meets Billie Holiday as she pushes the lyrics out coated in musical sugar and sweetness. Duke plucks along and some minor key restrained horns accompany things nicely. The clarinet and trumpet gets some laid back solos before Peyroux finishes us off. Duke performs Irving Berlin’s “Walking Stick,” a mid-tempo romp with slick fiddle provided by Andy Stein. Duke grinds the vocals out well and lays out some nice guitar as he and the fiddle trade solos. The horn and rhythm sections take us home like a comfy, late night cab waiting at the club door. “Blues In My Heart” follows with Ms. Russell at the microphone helm. She sings with a little restraint, building a bit here and there with a sexy approach along with the boys playing some slick and dirty accompaniment. “Lotus Blossum” closes out the first half; Hunt returns and gives another sweet performance. The song could easily come from a smoky speak easy where Hunt reminds me a little of a female Cab Calloway in her approach to this tune. Very slick.
Sunny takes the lead in Cole Porters’ “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” arranged nicely with a little samba sort of approach as she sings in a breathy and sexy manner. Mary Martin first sang this on Braodway and many a great cover has been done. Marilyn Monroe also did this in 1960 in the film, “Let’s Make Love” while wearing a purple sweater and black body stocking. Cronower holds her ow as she croons and moans to great effect and Duke does a swell job on guitar, too. The fiddle returns and spars with the trombone as Duke fronts the band for “What’s The Reason (I’m Not Pleasin’ You).” A 1934 song, some may recall the Fats Domino version. Nice sax work stands out here along with a piano solo by Hunt. Elizabeth McGovern is only on one cut, “Me. Myself and I.” Billie Holiday popularized this song and the Downton Abbey actress and musician does a nice job here with an airy and ethereal vocal approach and swinging support by all. Madeline returns for “Easy Living” and does it on Billie Holiday style. Originally from a film of the same name, some will recall Johnny Hartman’s version from the film “The Bridges of Madison County.” Here we have Peyroux in a solemn but forthright approach and a nice sax and trumpet solo are also in the mix. “Was That The Human Thing To Do” gives us Muldaur once again in a jumping and swinging cut with the fiddle and the rest of the boys in full swing, too. “If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)” is Kelley Hunt giving a thoughtful and impassioned performance of this old time classic with some ragtime piano sounds. Duke does “Ready For The River,” a song from 1928 and Minnesotan Coon-Sanders and his Original Nighthawk Orchestra (which was primarily based in Kansas City). Hugely popular, Coon died unexpectedly of a jaw infection and the band dispersed, leaving a legacy of great songs which Duke does justice to. Lots of nice trombone, clarinet, trumpet and horn support here. The final track features the horn and rhythm sections, an instrumental entitled “Call Of The Freaks.” Penned by Panamanian Luis Russell who lived in The Big Easy, this is a beautiful early jazz piece with some killer trumpet, guitar and work by the horn section.
OK, so if you are looking for straight up, familiar blues it’s not here. What is here is an extraordinary set of old early jazz tunes that were part of the blues of the era where the blues went into the cities of the south and rhythm and horn sections were added to the music. The influence of the blues on the big bands and jazz is evident here with 14 tracks that are done with charm, style, and just a lot of exuberance. Robillard achieves what he set out to do. He demonstrates the versatility of his band, the gals who sing with him and himself. If you love old jazz tunes and want to hear what some 21st century masters can do with them, grab this. I loved it!