Duke Robillard’s talents as a blues guitarist are undeniable. His last outing, a two-disc set called Duke’s World Of Blues, traced his influences while proving him capable of playing in virtually any style with breathtaking ease. Equally adept at jazz, he’s always seemed most at home when the blues are swingin,’ though, and his latest, Stomp! The Blues Tonight, may be his most consistently enjoyable set yet.
With only three originals, all fitting seamlessly into a generous 16-song playlist, Duke reaches back to the jump blues he began with as a founding member of Roomful Of Blues. Few (if any) do it better, and here he’s supported by a superb cast of musicians, including his own working band and old friends from his Roomful days. Also on hand is Duke’s own discovery, vocalist Sunny Crownover, a marvel who manages to evoke a classic era while adding enough contemporary flourishes to avoid anachronism.
From the titular opening track (written specifically to set the tone for the album), Robillard and friends tear through a set with enviable energy and enthusiasm, perfectly paced from beginning to end. Most of the material is relatively obscure, and the better known tracks (“Frankie And Johnny,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”) are re-worked enough to render them fresh. Elsewhere there are tracks from Lowell Fulson (“Do Me Right”), Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (“Three Hours Past Midnight”), along with tunes from the likes of Wynonie Harris and Roy Milton. Additional originals include a tribute to Duke’s idol, T-Bone Walker, a tune Robillard and Doug James began composing back in the mid-seventies, completing it on the day of the sessions, and a co-write with Crownover, a down-‘n’-dirty shuffle called “Look But Don’t Touch.”
Instrumental contributions are uniformly excellent. Duke’s own knowledge is encyclopedic, and the supporting cast is as good as it gets. Bruce Bears sparkles on piano, Doug ‘Mr. Low’ James contributes baritone and tenor sax, fellow Roomful alumnus Rich Lataille adds tenor and alto and Al Basile contributes cornet. Duke’s never been a great vocalist, but he seems quite comfortable here, his voice better suited to exuberance rather than plumbuing the depths of despair. Sunny Crownover proves an excellent foil with her voice pleasantly clear in contrast to Robillard’s growl, though there are occasions when just a little more sass is called for. She’s wonderful on Helen Humes’ “Million Dollar Secret” and the bouncy “For You My Love,” but there’s a coy playfulness to her delivery that’s not quite convincing when things get rowdy.
But that’s quibbling, and as a cohesive collection covering all the bases, Stomp! The Blues Tonight is sheer delight. Despite his talent, Robillard’s records have often suffered from inconsistency and indulgence. This one’s a return to form, a focused and thoroughly likable outing that swings with assured ease and stomps with undeniable energy. Highly recommended!