Whenever Duke Robillard's name comes up in blues conversations, most people are quick to associate him with the original Roomful of Blues, the band that Robillard and pianist Al Copley formed in 1967. For twelve years, Robillard was the guitarist for Roomful of Blues, helping to turn the East Coast band into a national blues act. What is less likely to come up in conversation about Robillard is the fact that he was the guitarist who replaced Jimmie Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds from 1990-92; that he was the regular guitarist for rockabilly artist Robert Gordon for a number of years; and that he was a jam session regular with the late, great Muddy Waters. As if that wasn't enough, Robillard has produced and guested on records by numerous other blues artists, including Eddy Clearwater's excellent 1998 release, Cool Blues Walk. The result of these varied experiences (or visa versa) has been the development of Robillard's torrid guitar style which includes elements of blues, jazz, r+b, rock, and rockabilly. The fact that Robillard has been able to become comfortable and creative in all of these styles has allowed him to create a unique fusion of their various elements.
New Blues For Modern Man is Duke Robillard's latest album and his first on the Sanachie label. Eight of the twelve songs on the recording are written by Robillard and the album is self-produced. Two of the four non-Robillard written tunes are covers of Charlie Patton's, "Pony Blues" and Bob Dylan's, "Love Sick." The album displays a variety of styles from the straight ahead blues sound of "Don't Fool With My Love" to the Spanish-laced sound of "You're The Only One."
In addition to Robillard's regular band which includes Doug James (baritone/tenor saxophone & bass clarinet), Dennis Taylor (tenor sax), John Packer (acoustic bass) and Marty Richards (drums & maracas); Robillard utilizes guest appearances by Tom West (piano, organ & electric piano), Al Basile (cornet), Mark Davis (mandola & mandocello) and Marilyn Mair (mandolin, mandola & accordion). Davis, Mair and Basile are most apparent on "You're The Only One," as Robillard goes straight for the mariachi sound. "You're the Only One" also features some really nice cornet work by Al Basile.
As you go through the songs on the album, there is a definite change in style and feel from song to song. The opening tune, "Jumpin' Rockin' Rhythm," as well as, "Fishnet" have a sound that one might hear when listening to a Fabulous Thunderbirds record. Especially on "Fishnet," Robillard offers some excellent guitar in a mode that is not quite as understated as he is on some of the other songs on the CD. In fact, one of my favorite songs on the record, "Addiction," also offers some excellent work by Robillard that seems to blend more into the fabric of the song instead of getting in your face, as many guitarists are inclined to do.
Other songs on the CD offer a more traditional sound. These include a very nice interpretation of Charlie Patton's, "Pony Blues," "Don't Fool With My Love," a nice Chicago sounding slow blues, and The Jimmy Reed-like, "Hurt Me," a number that include a nice tenor sax solo by Doug James. Also in the more traditional mode is "I Don't Want To Say Best Wishes," offering a New Orleans torch song feel.
Moving to more of an east coast, jazzy sound; Robillard offers three songs; "Good Man," "How Long Baby" and the closing instrumental, "Big Bottom Blues." This song is an excellent closing number for the record and includes excellent solos by Robillard, Dennis Taylor (tenor sax) and Tim West (piano).
One my other favorite songs on the album is Robillard's arrangement of Bob Dylan's, "Love Sick." Although Robillard's take on this song doesn't translate into classic Dylan, it nevertheless features some of the best extended guitar work by Robillard on the record.
Regardless of your preferred Duke Robillard style, there is something on this CD that will appeal to every Duke Robillard fan. New Blues For Modern Man continues to demonstrate Robillard's commitment to excellence and his interest in a variety of musical styles.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.