10 songs/39 minutes
Fans of the Duke and his old band Roomful of Blues are always on the lookout for new swinging stuff by them and this new album by the Duke won’t disappoint them or anyone looking for a good dose of swinging blues from New Englands’ blues dynasty. The Duke is joined by Bruce Bears on the keys, Brad Halen on bass, and Mark Texiera on drums and percussion. It also features his protégé Sunny Crownover on vocals and the trio of Rich Lataille (sax), Mark Early (sax) and Doug Wolverton (trumpet) as the horn section. Eight originals are featured here out of the ten songs presented.
He opens with “Down in Mexico;” that swinging groove we know and love from Duke just grabs you and makes you want to listen and shake your boogie. Nice horn and organ work here and the Duke offers a thoughtful guitar solo (as he does throughout the album). “I’m Gonna Quit My Baby” is something Duke worked out and recorded with Mark Texiera a while back. He played with the tuning, added piano and bass, and does a little slide. It’s very cool. Duke messes around with a lot of old string instruments to deliver “Svengali,” a song comparing someone close to him to the hypnotist/mystic character from the 1930’s whose schtick was to control people. Lots of cool percussion also adds to the mystique and textured string flavors. “Blues Beyond the Call of Duty” features Sonny doing what she does best while Duke plays his Strat in a very Chicago styled manner. She can croon with the best of them and Duke just blows everything away with his soulful approach to this cut. What a superb cut and not what you usually expect from the Duke!
The covers are all very thoughtfully selected and performed. Gary Nicholson and Ron Sexsmith wrote “Emphasis on Memphis” gives us a lesson in how rock and roll evolved in Memphis with Duke leading and a plethora of backing vocals and some really cool horns. He goes back to new stuff with “Confusion Blues,” Bruce Bears takes the vocal lead in this jazzy little number. His tenor tones are perfect and the jump blues are in full force here. Duke’s guitar is sweet and recorded live with great effect. The boys boogie hard with “Motor Trouble;” Robillard double tracks the vocals with a delay for a very effective sound. The guitar is sublime yet forceful and the piano strident in this mid tempo boogie. “Nasty Guitar” basically revolves just around that. He and Sonny sing as a duet here on this rocking song where Duke lays his Strat over his Airline Twin. He, as a 65 year old, is proud that his blues can still rock.
“Temptation” comes from his 1990’s album of the same name. Miles Davis meets Pink Floyd meets funk. It’s not the same song as it was 20 years ago, this delivery is quite the showcase of a band that is together. “She’s So Fine” closes the set, a Duke Coleman song from the 1960s originally performed by the Carter Brothers of Alabama. Duke growls this soulful blues while the backline furiously maintains the beat. Duke noted his voice is gone and after he performed this song he could barely talk for days. The baritone sax is used like a fog horn and the band lays down a sweet groove, leaving nothing behind and closing the album in fine manner.
Complaints? Maybe two. As Duke notes in the liner notes (and interviews): his voice is going. He still manages to growl and grit out some cool stuff. The other one is that the album is a little short, under 40 minutes. But those are minor in comparison to the pluses. The songs are really well constructed and thoughtfully arranged. The playing is impeccable. Ten fine songs with a superb band performed by the master of New England blues- Mr. Duke Robillard!