Duke Robillard's history shouldn't require much explanation beyond a few simple facts which lead directly to his credibility as a modern blues interpreter... fact one - he formed Roomful Of Blues back in the 1960's and later the outfit became so highly respected that they were the chosen band to back up aging blues giants like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Big Joe Turner, and others... fact two - when Jimmie Vaughan departed the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kim Wilson called on Duke to fill the void (along with Kid Bangham)... fact three - Robillard's credit list is absolutely staggering considering he's been part of recordings by Herb Ellis, the T-Birds, Jay McShann, The Rockin' Highliners, Billy Boy Arnold, and countless others, not to mention his own superb sessions. If that's not enough of a pedigree, it simply needs to be pointed out that he's one of the best blues guitarists alive today and "Living with the Blues," his latest from the Stony Plain label, is proof positive.
Much like "Duke's Blues" from 1994, which was a tribute of sorts to many of his heroes, Robillard again pays homage to a fine array of characters and manages to toss in a few originals that fit comfortably alongside the gems. Starting with Little Milton's "If Walls Could Talk," it's quite obvious he meant business when these tracks were cut, but he readily burns on Freddy King's "Use What You Got," a six-minute slow blues with dynamic guitar and passionate vocals. "Stratisfied," a cleverly titled instrumental, is a rocking feature for an endless bag of licks including power chords, double stops, simultaneous rhythm and lead, numbing bends, and everything else but the kitchen sink, which could be in there as well. He opts for no assistance on Tampa Red's "Hard Road" and manages some fine acoustic bottleneck work, something he'd never done on record until now, although vocally he seems to try a little too hard for an old-style phrasing. "Buy Me A Dog" is a potent original that easily impresses with smart lyrics and distorted guitar, never mind the impeccable backing of John Packer's acoustic bass and Mark Teixeira's in-the-pocket drumming (top-shelf harmonica goes uncredited) for Duke's ode to his dachshund, Lucy Mae, which begs the question, why no tip of the hat to Frankie Lee Sims? "Good Time Charlie" is the Bobby Bland nugget, but Robillard's nod leans to the James Cotton version and then a crushing six-string workout that pummels the listener in "Painful Memory," where the spirit of Guitar Slim takes on a life of its own. Willie Dixon's "I Live The Life I Love" shows the piano skills of Bruce Katz well while Doug James, Gordon Beadle, and Carl Querfurth hand in muscular horns then 'Mr. Low' drops in a stunning baritone sax solo for Willie Egan's "I'm Mad About It." Another Robillard-penned offering comes in the form of "Sleepin' On It," which popped up occasionally during the old Roomful days which was then worked into a rocker in Duke's 1980's period and the title track first appeared as a Brownie McGhee tune on Savoy in 1954. The disc shuts down with Duke waving to B.B. King by covering the little-known "Long Gone Baby," laced with drilling guitar over the stumbling Latin-like groove.
At 55 minutes long, the quality of these recordings is stellar, all done at Duke's Mood Room, his studio in Providence, RI. Yeoman support is handed in from all who contribute to the overall success of this CD, whether from recognized players like Doug James or Gordon Beadle, or the less-familiar, yet respectfully traditional John Packer and Mark Teixeira. Holger Petersen, Stony Plain's head honcho and executive producer of this disc, deserves credit for seeing Robillard as one of the best performers in blues today and for making sure Duke's name is prominently featured in his label's catalog. You can check the website at: www.stonyplainrecords.com or email them using email@example.com - and if you're not yet hip to the talents of Duke Robillard, "Living with the Blues" is a fine jumping off point.
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