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Music Review: The Duke Robillard Band-Low Down and Tore Up

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Born in Rhode Island, singer/guitarist/band leader Duke Robillard has consistently demonstrated a fondness for all forms of the blues, and Texas blues in particular. In 1967, he was a co-founder of Roomful of Blues before doing session and touring work for the likes of Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan. After Jimmy Vaughn departed from the Austin-based Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1989, Robillard was Vaughn’s first replacement in between leading incarnations of his own groups.

Through the years, Robillard has shown himself as an unabashed devotee of the old schools of swing, juke-Jumping, gut-bucket, and boogie-woogie good-time music. Not surprisingly, his new collection once again takes his band and his listeners way, way back into the years when the likes of Elmore James and Pee Wee Crayton were recording records, laying the foundations of rock ‘n roll. As a result, the featured soloists of the current Duke Robillard Band are award-winning guitarist Robillard himself and tenor saxophonist Sax Gordon. Together, they dominate every track on their new release.

For example, Guitar Slim’s “Quicksand” and Eddie Taylor’s “Trainfare Home” set the tone for everything to follow with a humorous lilt to the lyrics, an upbeat tempo, and gritty performances from Robillard and Gordon with support from the full group. The third song, “Mercy Mercy Mama,” is the first number to also feature boogie-woogie piano runs that add color to subsequent songs, the keyboards played alternately by either Bruce Bears or Matt McCabe. Brad Hallen (acoustic bass) and Mark Teixeira (drums) round out the band, and they get a full work-out with “Overboard.” That Sugar Boy Crawford composition could wear out any stickman in the business, as fast a song as any band of humans can push. After “Blues After Hours,” a straight-forward guitar lead instrumental, the group pretty much sticks to the same formula. Growling vocals, hot guitar licks traded with hot sax blows supported by tinkering piano and a rhythm section all nail it down.

The sameness of most of these tracks is, depending on your taste, the album’s greatest strength or biggest weakness. The mood and tone never change, which might well be what your Saturday night party is looking for. On the other hand, four or five songs in one sitting tells you everything you’re going to hear here. If you want more, the Duke Robillard Band delivers. In the coming fall and winter months, they could be a great way to keep you warm.

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