14 tracks; 65 minutes
There can surely not be a blues fan who is not familiar with Roomful Of Blues! Whether the band is at the top of your personal lists will depend on whether you like the big band, horn-driven sound that typifies the band. For this reviewer they remain one of the genuinely great acts on the circuit and it is wonderful to have this live recording of the band’s celebration of its 45th year of playing, recorded over two nights on their home patch of Rhode Island. Roomful has been recorded live before but not for many years and this CD brings together material from literally every period of the band’s existence.
On this recording Phil Pemberton is on vocals, band leader Chris Vachon on guitar, longest-serving member Rich Lataille (43 years and counting) on alto, tenor sax and clarinet, Mark Earley on baritone and tenor sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Rusty Scott on keys, John Turner on bass and Chris Rivelli on drums.
Basically every track is a delight from early songs such as “Crawdad Hole”, originally recorded with Big Joe Turner, and “It All Went Down The Drain”, recorded with New Orleans guitarist Earl King. Another great that Roomful played with often was Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and although it was never recorded with Eddie “Somebody’s Got To Go” was a regular in their sets, so that record is set straight here with a new version of Big Bill Broonzy’s song. In the liner notes Chris Vachon is quoted as saying that some of the horn arrangements were tricky to adapt to a three man section (the old Roomful once had five horn players!) but you would not think so listening to the gorgeous arrangement of “I Left My Baby” where the horns sound as rich as Duke Ellington or Count Basie (the song was originally sung by Jimmy Rushing with Basie’s orchestra). The band is equally at home with the second-line rhythms of New Orleans and “Jambalaya” (recorded on their second album in 1979) is a good vehicle for that style. If Chicago blues is your thing take a listen to Roomful’s extended version of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby”. For lovers of BB King’s big band blues try “You Don’t Know”. The only instrumental “Straight Jacquet” is a big band jazz piece in tribute to sax player Illinois Jacquet. The variety of music is simply stunning.
The opening and closing sections of the CD also provide ample clues to the continuing popularity of Roomful. The CD opens with “Just Keep On Rockin’”, Chris Vachon’s tribute to the band’s loyal fans, presented as a piece of big band rocking blues. To close the CD we get two magnificent pieces of music. First the rampaging “Turn It On, Turn It Up” builds the tension superbly before delivering its chorus: “Turn it on – play that music that stopped the world turning”. Not many tunes could follow that message from this band but Mark Earley’s “Flip Flap Jack” is a fine choice to finish the disc with its refrain of “it’s time to go”, the horns blaring out and Phil in fine voice, as he is throughout the album.
Those of us who already have most of Roomful’s extensive output will love these fresh takes on some classic tunes. Anyone who is new to the band need look no further for a great primer to this East Coast institution which comes highly recommended.