Duke Robillard & Friends – Blues Bash!
Stony Plain Records – 2020
10 tracks; 41.33 minutes
All Blues Blast readers will be familiar with Duke Robillard who has been making music since the 1960’s. He founded Roomful Of Blues, has played with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and has produced over thirty solo albums that range across all types of blues, swing and jazz. The intention on his latest release was to produce a record “like the ones that made me want to play the blues in the first place”. Did he succeed? Definitely! Every disc Duke makes is top quality but this ranks as one of my personal favorites and arguably his best since Stomp! The Blues Tonight, back in 2009.
The core players on the album are Duke regulars: Duke on guitar and vocals, Bruce Bears on keys, Mark Teixeira on drums, Marty Ballou and Jesse Williams sharing bass duties. Horns feature on most tracks, the lion’s share going to an all-sax trio of Roomful alumni: Greg Piccolo (tenor), Rich Lataille (alto) and Doug James (baritone); on one track Al Basile (cornet) and Sax Gordon (tenor and baritone sax) replace them. Other musicians involved are harmonica player Mark Hummel, pianists Bob Welch and Mark Braun and drummer Marty Richards. Vocals are shared between Duke (four), Chris Cote (three) and Michelle Willson (one). The material comes from a range of blues greats, plus three Duke originals.
Duke pays homage to author Ike Turner with slashing leads and use of the whammy bar on “Do You Mean It”, the horns riffing away and Bruce Bears pounding the piano. Perhaps the revelation of the album is vocalist Chris Cote who sings really well on his three songs and this is an exhilarating start to the album. The horns sit out Duke’s “No Time” which is more of a Chicago blues with stop-start rhythms featuring Robert Welch’s piano and Mark Hummel’s acoustic harp. The horns return to fuel a rocketing take on Roy Milton’s “What Can I Do” on which Bruce Bears again shines on piano. The jump style reminds you of Roomful as Lataille takes the opening solo, even more so when Chris Cote comes in, sounding very much like current Roomful vocalist Phil Pemberton and it is an absolutely outstanding cut.
Duke gives us a salutary warning that “Everybody Ain’t Your Friend”, a song from the repertoire of Al King on which Johnny Heartsman was the original guitarist. Lefty Bates’ instrumental “Rock Alley” brings in some more Ike Turner style twang and a feature opportunity for Piccolo on tenor while the rhythm section really swings. Michelle ‘Evil Gal’ Willson reprises Helen Humes’ “You Played On My Piano” with a suggestive wink while Duke pulls out a cool solo, the sax solo this time being given to Mr Low’s baritone.
The alternate horn section appears with Mark Braun’s New Orleans-flavored boogie piano on “Ain’t Gonna Do It”, written and first recorded by Dave Bartholomew but probably best known from later covers by Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. Chris Cote then makes his final vocal contribution on a short and sweet take on “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” as made famous by T-Bone Walker, one of Duke’s heroes. The album closes with two Duke originals: “Give Me All The Love You Got” is reprized from one of the early Pleasure Kings albums and here has a great horn arrangement on top of the rocking rhythm; the ten minute instrumental “Just Chillin’” gives plenty of solo space, from the opening double bass/drums section, to organ work by Bears that is very much in the 60’s organ trio style and space for Piccolo’s breathy tenor. Duke plays in a relaxed, jazz-inflected style, again showing that he is a master of whatever he chooses to play.
Blues Bash! was on many 2020 ‘Best Of’ lists (including mine) and looks a strong bet for the next Blues Blast Awards nominations. Hardly surprising that you are recommended to make sure that you add this one to your collection!