Friday, October 14, 2016

CD Review: Duke Robillard's Blues Full Circle (2016)

Duke Robillard's Blues Full Circle
If you’re a blues fan, I’d give odds that you’re already familiar with guitarist Duke Robillard’s bona fides. For you newcomers, though, here’s the condensed version – Robillard was co-founder of legendary ‘70s-era outfit Roomful of Blues; he was Jimmie Vaughan’s replacement in another legendary band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, circa 1989-91; he’s produced albums by blues giants like Joe Louis Walker, Ronnie Earl, and Bryan Lee; he’s toured with both Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, recording Time Out of Mind with the latter; and he’s won six W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards, mostly in recognition of his enormous six-string prowess.

Robillard has also enjoyed a lengthy, moderately-successful, and critically-acclaimed solo career; prolific to a fault, I lost count at two dozen Robillard solo releases, and that’s not even considering the ridiculous number of guest appearances he’s made on albums by folks like John Hammond, Billy Boy Arnold, Curtis Salgado, and others (who presumably like to include a hot-shot guitarist on their recordings). Robillard’s Blues Full Circle is this year’s model and features the guitarist along with his “All-Star Combo” comprised of talents like keyboardist Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira. Blues Full Circle also offers guest appearances by artists like guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, singer Sugar Ray Norcia, saxophonist Doug James, and others, all of which means that the listener is pretty much guaranteed a raucous, rockin’ good time!

Duke Robillard’s Blues Full Circle

In the past, Robillard has dabbled in everything from barrelhouse and jump blues to jazz, world music and traditional acoustic blues (of which last year’s The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard is a fine example). As an artist, Robillard has delved into old school, new school, and no school, and because of his talents and extraordinary knowledge of it all, he’s conversant in every genre. So with Blues Full Circle, the guitarist provides listeners a sumptuous buffet of style and substance that offers a little something for every taste in the blues. Album opener “Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me” is a Buddy Guy-styled slab o’ Chicago blues with a little blues-rock grit, especially in Robillard’s stinging licks and mesmerizing solos. “Rain Keeps Falling” swings lighter, but with no less muscle, the song evincing a 1920s or ‘30s vibe with Robillard’s wire-taut fretwork dancing atop the band’s infectious rhythmic groove.

With Sax Gordon Beadle leading the charge on “Last Night” with his brassy horns, singer Sugar Ray Norcia delivers a deeply soulful vocal performance that reminds of the blues-flaked jazz era of Duke Ellington or Count Basie. Robillard’s guitar playing here is equally enchanting, perfectly complimenting, rather than detracting from the song’s jump ‘n’ jive rhythms. Robillard does his best Dr. John impression with the New Orleans-flavored “Fool About My Money,” Bruce Bears shining with subdued piano-pounding that echoes the great Professor Longhair. Anytime Duke and Jimmie Vaughan get together is a good time, and “Shufflin’ and Scufflin’” is no different, the pair saddling up for a tempered but tasteful instrumental duel that displays the talents of both fretburners vamping above Bears’ energetic Hammond organ fills and Mark Teixeira’s snappy brushwork. Doug James’ baritone sax here provides a sultry counterpoint to the song’s lively rhythms.

Robillard’s “Blues For Eddie Jones” is a tribute to the late, influential ‘50s-era bluesman Guitar Slim. His gritty, raw vocals here display power and gravitas close to that of the great Howlin’ Wolf while his subtle guitar licks are slung low in the mix alongside the sparse rhythms, the lyrics taking the spotlight in honor of the fallen blues legend. “Worth Waitin’ On” is a mid-tempo love song with an old-school R&B feel (think ‘50s era Bobby “Blue” Bland), some gorgeous background keyboard flourishes, and Robillard’s elegant fretwork, which match the emotional delivery of his vocals. Blues Full Circle finishes with the rowdy, traditional “Come With Me Baby,” a stylistic mix of Chicago and West Coast blues with an emphasis on Robillard’s precise guitarplay and hearty vox and the band’s engaging, foot-shuffling rhythmic backdrop.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Blues Full Circle is your standard, high-quality, entertaining Duke Robillard LP – the man makes it all look so easy, that it’s often too easy to take him and his talents for granted. A traditionalist in every sense of the word, Robillard is a frequently-overlooked innovator as well, his acclaimed six-string skills nevertheless deceptive as Robillard invents new ways to apply antique blues vocabulary to contemporary expectations with each record. An artistic bridge between blues music’s 1920s and ‘30s-era roots and the today’s blues scene, Robillard never gets the credit he should, no matter the accolades he receives. Every Duke Robillard album is an adventure, a piece to a puzzle nearly 100 years in the making, and Blues Full Circle is a welcome addition to the Robillard canon. Grade: A- (Stony Plain Records, released September 9, 2016)

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