Duke Robillard – Blues Full Circle | Album Review

dukerobillardcdDuke Robillard – Blues Full Circle

Stony Plain Records – 2016

13 tracks; 52 minutes


Duke Robillard spent over a year unable to play guitar following a serious shoulder injury and this album had to be delayed until further recording sessions had taken place once Duke had recovered.  In terms of releases the gap was filled by the excellent The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard but this is the album that Duke planned to release. Tracks were recorded before and after Duke’s enforced lay-off but the personnel throughout is unchanged with Duke on guitar and vocals and his long-standing band in support: Bruce Bears on keys, Mark Teixeira on drums and Brad Hallen on bass.  There are some guests who feature on one track each: Sugar Ray Norcia (vocals), Kelley Hunt (vocals/piano), Jimmie Vaughan (guitar), Sax Gordon Beadle (tenor/baritone sax) and Doug James (baritone sax).  Duke wrote all the material apart from two covers and one shared writing credit with Jimmie.

The format here is small band blues with a selection of shuffles, slow and rocking blues, Duke’s guitar reflecting each song’s mood perfectly.  He really is one of the masters of this sort of ensemble playing, possibly the best example being the extended “Shufflin’ And Scufflin’” which comes from an as yet unreleased session with Jimmie Vaughan, both guitarists getting plenty of space alongside Doug James’ bubbling baritone.  Kelley Hunt wrote a tune dedicated to Duke’s recording studio “The Mood Room” and Duke invited her to revisit the song with his band, Kelley’s piano taking the lead on an upbeat tribute to the “hippest joint in town”.  Sugar Ray Norcia is on vocals for a cover of Jimmy ‘Baby Face’ Lewis’ Last Night which is a stand-out cut with Ray’s suave vocal and Sax Gordon’s great sax work behind Duke’s swinging guitar.

Duke’s familiar deeper vocals are featured on the remaining tracks which include the amusingly cynical “Fool About My Money” on which the band adopts a New Orleans rhythm and the slow blues tribute to Guitar Slim, “Blues For Eddie Jones”. “Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me” opens the album on a funky note courtesy of Bruce’s piano and Duke’s searing guitar fills before the rolling blues of “Rain Keeps Falling”, Bruce’s piano again spot on for the tune and Duke bending the strings impressively. The pace drops for the slow blues of “Mourning Dove” but not the intensity of Duke’s playing and the swinging “No More Tears” harks back to Duke’s original incarnation of Roomful Of Blues, without the horns. Duke’s tough guitar and Bruce’s almost ragtime piano on “You Used To Be Sugar” is a winning (and swinging!) combination and “Come With Me Baby’ closes the album with another trademark rolling blues.

Whatever style he adopts Duke is a wonderful player, able to adapt across the spectrum of blues and jazz styles and this is another strong album from him.  Recommended.

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