Just in time, Duke Robillard & Friends have ‘Blues Bash!’

Duke Robillard & Friends cut ‘Blues Bash!’ just as the pandemic hit.

Talk about a man in constant motion! Duke Robillard never slows down, especially when he hosts a big ol’ fashioned “Blues Bash!”

Restrictions? Musically speaking, Robillard has few. But when the shit literally hit the worldwide fan, the world-class guitar player, singer, songwriter, band leader and blues historian figured he’d better gather his buddies in the studio and track some fun while they still had the chance. So for two days in mid-March they did just that, making a vintage-styled blues album that reflects the kind of rip-roaring music that inspired Robillard to form Roomful Of Blues over a half- century ago.

Long now a solo artist, Robillard reunited with Roomful sax players Rich Lataille, Greg Piccolo, and Doug James for the sessions. As planned, their searing horns helps pump to the heavens the rhythms laid down by bassists Jesse Williams and Marty Ballou and drummer Mark Teixeira. And alongside Robillard’s endlessly tasty and inventive guitar playing, Bruce Bears hammers his piano keys into shiny chips of diamonds.

They kick off the 10-song set with Ike Turner’s “Do You Mean It,” with versatile singer Chris Cote really meaning it on a rock and roller that gets the hips swiveling, the arms swaying, and the feet dancing up a storm. West Coast harp ace Mark Hummel joins the fray for Robillard’s own “No Time,” huffing gusts of spicy quality throughout the grinding blues. Robillard expertly recalls Jimmy Reed in guitar tone there, and he also displays a timeless endurance as a gritty, yet very tuneful singer. By inserting a few of his own compositions into the mix, Robillard shows a knack for seamlessly blending freshness into the overall immortal feel.

But he sure does show what he knows on the album, performing songs that are light years from the usual fare, with one exception. A different band of talented friends, including pianist Mark Braun, Sax Gordon on what else, and Roomful vet Al Basile on cornet, joins Robillard for a quick, serious dance party on Dave Bartholemew’s New Orleans romp, “Ain’t Gonna Do It.” A similar rocking vibe underscores classic jump blues bandleader Roy Milton’s “What Can I Do.” Cote shouts as the band hops. Bears rolls up and down the 88s, the horns bleat, and Robillard plays brilliant, transistor radio-scratchy guitar. Obscure Louisiana bluesman Al King gets his due in a scintillating take of “Everybody Ain’t Your Friend,” and then the band stretches out on Lefty “Guitar” Bates’ galloping Chicago instrumental, “Rock Alley.”

A big highlight occurs when Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson grabs the mic for a bright, sassy run through Seymour “Cy” Cohen’s “You Played on My Piano.” The groove there swings soulfully, and Willson emulates the great Helen Humes, but with a bit of extra depth in her voice. The rotation of three excellent, very different singers adds much to the overall grand appeal of the album.

At the end, Robillard’s instrumental “Just Chillin’ ” has just that effect, the long, jazzy workout suggesting a blistering nightclub set that’s come to a late, lazy, but still incredibly complex and impressive close. Duke Robillard has recorded countless albums over the many years, most of them excellent. Cut in the spur of the moment, at a time it was needed most, and ultimately ranking among his best is this carefree Blues Bash! You’re invited!

-Tom Clarke

  • Duke Robillard & Friends
  • ‘Blues Bash!’
  • Label: Stony Plain
  • Release: Nov. 20, 2020

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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