Andy Poxon


EllerSoul Records, 2013

I’ll get this out of the way: Andy Poxon, at 18 years old, is a recording veteran. His first CD, Red Roots, was released three years ago. Now, I don’t rate age any more than I pay attention to looks when I listen to music. I like to consider talent on its own merits, and youth seems most often to be used as a marketing gimmick, like girls with guitars. Neither in itself is any sort of big deal, nor–like Poxon’s distinctive, blazing red Afro–has it any relevance to the music. But this Washington, D.C.-based singer-songwriter-guitarist, whose new album Tomorrow has just been released by EllerSoul Records, is unmistakably developing into an artist to watch.

2009’s Red Roots, recorded with his working band (bass and drums), was sung well enough and played with some flair. But in essence it was a rather workmanlike album informed by classic rock moves, splashed with some pleasant R&B flavor and a few straight-up blues numbers, some of them quite derivative. The new album is something else entirely. Tomorrow is a quantum leap forward. In collaborating with producer Duke Robillard (who, along his band, also performs), Poxon seems invigorated.

Excellent arrangements and a seasoned supporting cast are some keys to Tomorrow’s success. One of the secret weapons in play is the Roomful of Blues horn section: Doug Woolverton (trumpet), Mark Earley (tenor and bari sax), and Rich Lataille (tenor and alto sax). Their fills are always right on, and the (uncredited) charts are memorable and infectious, bringing the tracks vividly to life. Bruce Bears makes important contributions, fleshing out the sound with washes of organ and piano that is here rollicking, there dreamy. Brad Hallen (basses) and Mark Teixeira (drums) consistently prove that they can lay down a perfect rhythm behind any style.

At the center of attention, Poxon’s singing is unmannered and effective; his guitar work is creative and assured, with a wide tonal palette; and his songs are genre-perfect exemplars of soul, blues, ballads, and rock, yet have the spark of originality. The stylistic reach is impressive. “College Boy” is pumping, roots rock in prime Chuck Berry style, with a well-constructed, raw guitar lead. “Please Come Home” hints at time spent listening to Ray Charles’s deepest R&B ballads, “All By Myself” channels Dave Bartholomew’s more raucous productions for Fats Domino, and “Without Me” sounds like it has at least a little Spanish Harlem soul in its lineage. “You Lied” is part Don Covay, part Coasters; “Too Bad,” a soul shuffle, boasts a perfect horn chart and an intentionally primitive guitar solo that does just the trick. The slow rocker “Carol Anne” finds common ground between Derek & The Dominos and the Bottle Rockets. Wistful without becoming maudlin, “Tomorrow,” with its luscious, clarion, jazz-inflected solo, makes a sublime closing time ballad. Cool vocals and a stuttering guitar break knock the swinging “Don’t Come Home” clean out of sight.

Nor is the blues side of things neglected. In “You Don’t Love Me,” a tough rumba-shuffle, Poxon displays a killer attitude torn from the pages of early-period B.B. King, with a touch of Freddy. “Fooling Around” is a bracingly uptempo 1950s-style Chicago blues that sounds like a tip of the hat to “Who’s Been Cheating Who,” a song by one of Poxon’s favorite artists, Sean Costello. Texeira and Bears, along with a wild guitar solo, star here. The album closes with a splendid jazz instrumental, “Jammin’ At Lakewest,” that has Poxon and Robillard trading choruses bursting with hip melodic and rhythmic ideas.

Andy Poxon seems to have found his own voice as part of a continuing tradition. It seems paradoxical, but Tomorrow’s shift toward more classic blues and soul forms has resulted in music of new excitement and originality.  To return to a statement I made earlier, Tomorrow is something else! Highly recommended.


Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.


Independently Blue


The Duke Robillard Band

with special guest Monster Mike Welch

Independently Blue

Stony Plain Records,  2013

From his beginnings in Roomful of Blues through various incarnations as a bandleader­–never mind an unparalleled resume of projects as sideman or producer that would be enviable, even legendary, on its own–Duke Robillard has set and exceeded the highest standards of taste, tone, and style. It seems that Robillard has been on a hot (or, more accurately, a hotter) streak of late, with a jumping brace of blues albums in Stomp! The Blues Tonight and Low Down and Tore Up; a jazzy trio project, Wobble Walking; exciting production work for Sunny Crownover, Joe Louis Walker, and others; and an upcoming tour as part of Bob Dylan’s band.

His latest album extends that run of successes. Augmenting his rhythm section (Bruce Bears, keyboards; Brad Hallen, bass; Mark Teixeira, drums–a trio that seems as telepathically linked as it is stylistically unlimited) is guest guitarist Monster Mike Welch, a fellow New Englander who regularly gigs as one of Sugar Ray Norcia’s Bluetones–that is, when he is not recording albums as a front man (I count five or six to date). Robillard maneuvers this superb and sympathetic cast through and around a dizzying scope of blues, jazz, and roots music on Independently Blue.

The album opens with two of three compositions penned by Robillard’s former Roomful bandmate, Al Basile. “I Wouldn’t-a Done That” is a swaggering shuffle with a pair of snarling, tangled-in-barbed-wire solos. Believe it or not, the tune modulates into different keys at least twice, an exceedingly rare move in the blues that makes for a very cool and compelling structure. “Below Zero” is a bluesy, moderately paced rocker that rides out on a duel between Duke’s bright single-note lines and Monster Mike’s bassy, fuzzed-out licks.

This friendly competition continues in the next track, Welch’s hard-hitting instrumental “Stapled To The Chicken’s Back,’” a Texas-flavored shuffle that arrives loaded with impressive guitar breaks. Chicken-picked single notes and double-stops practically pop out of the speaker during Duke’s solo, which slips easily between blues, country, and jazz feels. Welch’s darker-toned choruses are slinkier and recall the no-prisoners attack and idiosyncratic phrasing of Albert Collins. Duke picks up on this biting approach and returns it during the thrilling back-and-forth exchange that follows the individual solos.

A bouncing roots-rocker, “Laurene” expresses Duke’s devotion to Mrs Robillard, and sports a pair of distinctive rhythm guitar approaches as well as two wickedly pointed, Chuck Berry-inspired solos. It sounds like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” provided the inspiration for the arrangement behind Basile’s “I’m Still Laughing.” The trebly lead guitar part is laden with a menacingly heavy vibrato. Welch’s “This Man, This Monster” begins as a laid-back, jazzy after-hours stroll, which escalates as more pointed, bluesier tones and lines overshadow the mellow mood, then develops a languid, almost Hawaiian feel: What an incredible ride in five minutes’ time!

Several sides of the extended range of Robillard’s imagination are on display. “Groovin’ Slow” rides a Southern soul groove reminiscent of “Ode To Billie Joe.” The relaxed but deeply funky middle solo seems perfect for this sort of Muscle Shoals feel, as do the jazzier leads in the outro. “You Won’t Ever” is a different kind of animal, opening with a Latin-inflected trumpet line over a minor key lope before moving into something I think of as Love Boat soul: a little like an arrangement from Willie Mitchell’s Royal studio in Memphis, with pop accents in the vocal melody, and a fleet, George Benson-esque guitar ride out.

The band reaches back to the 1920s with a cover of Red Allen’s “Patrol Wagon.” Doug Woolverton’s trumpet and Billy Novick’s clarinet snake around each other, evoking the feel of vintage jazz records, while Welch waits until the song’s end to uncoil an extended solo that’s mellow but swinging, and oh-so-finely syncopated. Robillard’s bluesy yet unique “Moongate” serves as the album’s centerpiece, midway through the program. A hip arrangement and canny production ideas, like balancing one tremoloed guitar against another, far-off and heavily reverbed–and layering others atop that instrumental bed–lend an ethereal, evocative air, in keeping with its lyric about a Chinese garden, to the track, which would seem out of place either leading off or closing the album, yet is sublime where it sits.

Still, the heart of every Duke Robillard project is the blues, and here the best comes last, in “If This Is Love,” a hard-hitting number based loosely on Otis Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Robillard’s lyric and singing are impressively strong, and Welch absolutely kills it with a stunning lead guitar part, marked by angular phrasing, cutting bends, and a disconcertingly aggressive attack. Go to the head of the class, son! It marks a fitting close to the latest Duke Robillard Band long-player. Savvy music fans have long recognized Duke Robillard as the go-to guy for inventive and pitch-perfect playing in virtually every blues-based style of American music, and Independently Blue demonstrates again his mastery as bandleader and producer, his excellence as a performer, and his stature as a visionary creator of American music.


Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media.