Not sure who Doug James is? Check the credits on discs by Roomful Of Blues, the Fabulous T-Birds, SRV, Ronnie Earl, or recent releases by Jay McShann, Billy Boy Arnold, Rosco Gordon (the list goes on and on) . . . chances are it's Mr. James' baritone sax holding down the bottom end of the horn section.
Mention should be made, too, of Doug's current boss, Duke Robillard, who co-produced "Blow Mr. Low," contributes guitar on all but a couple of tracks, and adds vocals to a pair, as does the great Sugar Ray Norcia.
With musicians of this calibre - bassist John Packer and drummer Mark Teixeira, with Matt McCabe his usual sparkling self on piano, "Sax" Gordon Beadle adding texture on tenor, and other Roomful alumni appearing to spice up the mix - impeccable performances are pretty well a given. So it all comes down to the music.
And oh what music it is! Fans of 1940's style R&B - surely in the running as the most irresistible of all musical forms, a near-perfect amalgamation of sassy swing and ballsy bluster - will be in heaven here. It's all growl and honk as Doug blows his heart out, with the no-holds-barred approach best exemplified on the title track, courtesy of Mr. Robillard, wherein Duke exhorts his pal to "blow those blues away."
And while it may be Doug's debut as leader, he exhibits a fine sense of ensemble playing throughout, with arrangements that make intelligent use of the resources at his disposal; check out how the rest of the horns simmer beneath Doug's baritone on "Bobbie's Boogie," or how they alternately answer and support on "Blues For Leo." Duke, of course, is the perfect foil throughout, largely content to comp like mad in the background in the service of swing.
Covers include a lovely version of "I Want A Little Girl," highlighted by Sugar Ray's creamy-smooth crooning, and a knockout nine-minute version of "Cry Me A River" that gets the mood just right, all cool detachment hiding a broken heart. There's a dip into the Smiley Lewis songbook for the humorous "Dirty, Dirty People," and a furious run at Jimmy Reed's "You Better Hold Me." Doug and Duke wrote the rest, primarily instrumentals that mine much the same territory.
Truth be told, this disc could easily have happened sixty years ago. Short of surprises, perhaps, but then why would anyone want to mess with such a great thing? As Kid Ramos once said, "It's not retro, it's unfinished business." Solid grooves, top-notch musicianship, new tunes that respect tradition while adding to the repertoire, and everything swings like mad . . . in short, there just isn't any way to make this any better.
Stony Plain Records
P.O. Box 861, Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T5J 2L8
Phone : 780-468-6423
Fax : 78o-465-8941
Web : www.stonyplainrecords.com
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.