Jimmy Alter & Jason Bone • The Bottom Line

Jason Bone & Jimmy Alter

The Bottom Line EP

2014

http://www.jimmyaltermusic.com

 

Jimmy Alter’s soon-to-be-released five song record follows an earlier EP, Rock With Me. The young guitarist from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and his band mate, guitarist Jason Bone, sing blues-based music with heart and skill. The pair has selected this short set wisely, for although all of the songs are covers, none is unknown (or, with one exception, even obscure), yet none has been frequently re-recorded, thereby introducing an element of surprise while maintaining some familiarity. That’s the way to do it!

The program opens with a bass line and hammering piano, both straight out of Little Richard, kicking off a raucous number that proves to be “Player,” an exciting throwback classic by Nick Curran. The band dispatches that tune in 2:20, just enough time to squeeze in a couple choruses of rock ‘n’ roll guitar inspired by Berry and Richards. Next up is the obscurity–I had to Google the lyrics to positively identify “The Bottom Line,” a noir-ish, mid-tempo song from the late harmonica man Paul de Lay. Bone really gets across the character of the narrator, a lonely outsider. A tersely phrased guitar break yields to Jim David’s subtly dazzling organ solo. Both players understand that what isn’t played is as important as what is.

Alex Lyon (bass) and David Watson (drums) cut a strong groove behind the tough take on “Funky Mama” that centers the set. Those unfamiliar with the original version would be forgiven for scanning their Jimmie Vaughan records trying to identify this instrumental shuffle. Bone holds down the rhythm, playing greasy lines through a Leslie cabinet in tribute to Big John Patton’s organ. First David solos on piano; next Alter, Bone, and Motor City Josh take turns on guitar. None really references Grant Green’s playing on Lou Donaldson’s classic version; instead we hear three snappy solos, each with a lot of personality, ranging from loopy, carnival-esque ideas through snarling, Albert Collins-inflected lines, and ending with a few unison run-throughs of the head arrangement, all in just over three minutes.

Hats off to Alter for reaching into the “5” Royales’ catalog for “Thirty Second Lover.” He hews close to the original for the guitar introduction and fills, but this version is far from a clone: the tempo seems slower and the track here has a distinctly boozy, New Orleans party feeling. Jimmy and the backing vocalists acquit themselves enthusiastically and well, and the guitar break is crisp and impressive. For the final cut, Bone turns to the great American band Los Lobos for their beautiful, haunting “The Neighborhood.” Everything comes together here, from the rhythm section through the electric piano touches and organ solo (take note of David’s crafty Tito Puente/Santana quotation) to Jason Bone’s vocal, in which he sounds amazingly like David Hidalgo, to a guitar solo that is at once flashy and deeply soulful.

A song like this has far more in common with the blues than do any 500 blues rock clichés. Bone and Jimmy Alter ought to be commended for recognizing that kinship, and for being willing to stretch the boundaries in appropriate and fresh directions, while remaining emphatically loyal to blues tradition. They deserve credit too for their nerve. It would be nigh impossible to top Lowman Pauling’s wit and soul, or Curran’s shattering energy, but on this enjoyable EP Alter and Bone hold their own, with mature singing and playing that promise a huge upside.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist provided an advance copy of the EP. This review was commissioned by the Detroit Blues Society and published in the July 2014 edition of its BluesNotes newsletter. Download a PDF at the DBS Web site, detroitbluessociety.org

 

 

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Guy King: Solo and Organ Trio Recordings

By Myself I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

GUY KING

By Myself

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

IBF Records, 2012

guyking.net

Guy King established his credentials in the six years he spent as bandleader for Chicago legend Willie Kent, during which his tough but nuanced lead guitar playing was a major part of The Gents’ hard-edged blues sound. Following Kent’s death in 2006, King embarked upon a solo career. His debut album Livin’ It, on which a new, tightly arranged style, inflected with smooth, jazz-shaded R&B, began to emerge, was nominated for a Blues Music Award; and the guitarist, a native of Israel, seemed to be everywhere at once, appearing nationally and internationally with his blues band, playing solo shows, and fronting an organ trio around Chicago. Then he seemingly fell off the map. As it turns out, King has been spending most of his time abroad, mainly performing in Israel and Brazil. Given that he is preparing to return to the United States for a series of dates scheduled around the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival, now seems a good time to take stock of the two excellent albums King quietly released at the end of summer 2012.

Willie Kent’s gritty electric blues were one thing; the uptown Livin’ It was quite another. What King does on By Myself is completely unexpected. Powerful interpretations of songs by pre-war blues icon Robert Johnson make up nearly half of the 15-song set. King shows a surprising affinity for the form, with a mastery of Johnson’s technique and chords, a snappy, percussive attack that brings a full and expressive sound to the solo guitar, and vocals that shift from full to falsetto, always sounding natural and often impassioned, as when his voice breaks in “Hellhound On My Trail,” where King evokes hopeless resignation in the face of haunting mystery. At the other end of the emotional register is the relatively plainspoken “Steady Rollin’ Man,” also among the strongest performances here. King’s singing takes on a notable resonance and vibrato, appropriately enough, on “Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of two Muddy Waters numbers, and thumps fleet runs on the bass strings of his guitar behind Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Katie Mae,” which closes this portion of the program.

Don’t despair if Mississippi and Texas blues are not your thing. Five songs at the end of the CD come from an entirely different direction. Still solo, still built on King’s acoustic guitar and evocative singing, they touch on more contemporary and more cosmopolitan musical styles. “I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is” is a swinging, soulful, upbeat number with a jazzy flair. Next King reprises the sophisticated ballad “Alone In The City,” from Livin’ It. Stripped of its electric instruments and horns, it sounds more like Percy Mayfield or even Charles Brown at his gloomiest–with Ray Charles somewhere at the root of both versions. King overdubs subtle percussion on the last few songs, all in the bossa nova style, beginning with his reading of the jazz standard “Nature Boy,” continuing through his lively cover of Joao Gilberto’s “Acapulco,” and ending with a smoky “Besame Mucho.” This is music for lovers, indeed.

Recorded with Mike Schlick (drums) and Ben Paterson (organ), the two-CD set I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is offers a cool cruise through jazz and standards, blues and ballads, soul and R&B, and pop. The program begins with a band version of the title track before moving to Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” King then shifts from bop to the birth of soul, with an emotional “Drown In My Own Tears.” Next up is a light “Sweet Lorraine,” a rousing “Mojo,” then back to jazz with Stanley Turrentine’s bluesy “Sugar,” and on to Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and a “Going To Chicago” much toned down from any of the often-heard Joe Williams versions. King’s interest in Brazil comes out in Jobim’s uptempo “Agua De Beber.” Bobby Hebb’s pop smash “Sunny” yields to another Ray Charles ballad before King delivers a wondrous “Tear It Down,” capturing not only Wes Montgomery’s signature octaves but his excitement and effortless swing. Paterson is on fire here, too, and Schlick ably covers the drum breaks.

The second disc unfolds along the same lines, covering standards romantic (“You’ve Changed,” “Moonlight In Vermont”) and frivolous (“The Frim Fram Sauce”); jazz (“Green Dolphin Street” and workouts on McGriff’s “Vicky” and Burrell’s “Kenny’s Sound”); lush ballads from Billie Holiday (“God Bless The Child”) and Stevie Wonder (“Lately”); the breezy Brazilian “Brigas Nunca Mais”; blues (a pitiful “All Over Again,” from B.B. King’s catalog) and R&B (from Ray Charles once more, in a splendid “Roll With My Baby”). As is often the case with organ trios, some of the best material comes from unlikely places. King nods to the soul jazz tradition with sweet pop and elegant soul selections (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Me And Mrs. Jones”), and surprises with the country weeper “Crying Time,” perhaps learned from Buck Owens, or remembered from bluesman Phillip Walker’s Playboy Records LP. In either case, it is devastating. Overall, the division between instrumentals and vocal numbers is about even, the latter showing King’s pleasant, expressive range, and on virtually every track, King and Paterson trade solos that, even when speaking the language of jazz, retain bluesy phrasing and tonalities. The group has a real feeling for the entire range of styles on What It Is, an absolutely lovely album on many levels.

King’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that both albums were recorded virtually off-the-cuff. Inspired after an evening’s gig, King cut the solo album in a single session, using an acoustic guitar belonging to the studio. In much the same way, the 30 songs on the organ trio record were laid down, in much less than 24 hours, during the course of an all-nighter, with a brief follow-up later in the afternoon. One might reasonably wonder if there is anything he can’t do, and where he will take us next. King has in fact been writing and recording new material, with an ear sensibly tilted toward producing great music, without much concern for genre restrictions. The touchstone artists whose work inspired the two works considered here–Muddy Waters, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles in particular–seem likely to play a continuing role in King’s musical development. That is an evolution I don’t want to miss. In taking the varied music he loves and recasting it in new combinations, Guy King is going about his art the right way. Musicians with genuinely big ears are rare, and talent like King’s is rarer still.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought these CDs from the artist’s Web site.

Double Crossing Blues

adrianna marie

http://www.adriannamarieandhergroovecutters.com/

My liner notes for a wonderful new record, scheduled to be available on 27 July.

Where her previous album with L.A. Jones, Spellcaster, took a wide-angle shot, presenting Adrianna Marie in various blues settings and offering her takes on rockabilly and country standards, Double Crossing Blues zooms in for a tight focus on the uptown R&B and elegant blues styles that reached their zenith in the decade after World War II. The glamorous images this music evokes, at least through the Vaseline-smeared lens of our historical remove, are those of late nights in posh nightclubs; sleek motor cars; strong drinks; and nattily dressed men and women, either in love or playing at it.

The cocktail lounge blues of the Three Blazers described this lush life with a knowing weariness. The vintage records treasured by Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters took a different path, tending to favor a livelier sound, performed by larger bands. The Groovecutters interpret it masterfully. Jones, a premier electric guitarist inspired by Albert King, and long the leader of his own Blues Messengers, here plays with period-correct tones and a technique perfectly suited to the earlier style. Larry David Cohen supplies wonderful piano playing and a huge harmonica sound. Superb charts by Lee Thornburg, a veteran of Tower of Power and Etta James’s Roots Band, feature his trumpet and trombone, and the saxophones of Ron Dzuibla.

These days, when every female vocalist seems to be vying for Koko Taylor’s throne, what a delight it is to hear a beautiful, natural voice. Adrianna Marie sings without affectation but with all the expressiveness, sass, and class of stylists like Dinah Washington, Little Esther, and Helen Humes. From the rocking R&B of Esther’s “Cherry Wine” to a lowdown treatment of Humes’s “I Ain’t In The Mood,” she is splendid. In front of the spectacular, big band version of Louis Jordan’s swinging, minor “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” or the reading of Billie Holiday’s jazzy “Sugar,” Adrianna Marie is pure sophistication. In duets with Jones–on Big Maybelle’s “That’s A Pretty Good Love” and on the lovely ballad, originally by Johnny Otis and Little Esther, that gives Double Crossing Blues its title­–she is by turns steamy and reserved. In every setting and mood, Adrianna Marie and the Groovecutters, who provide expert ensemble work and memorable solos, and step out on their own on Freddy King’s “Sad Night Owl,” are picture-perfect.

Tom Hyslop

It Wasn’t Real

gina

Gina Sicilia

It Wasn’t Real

Swingnation Records/Vizztone, 20413

www.ginasicilia.com

www.vizztone.com

Not yet 30 years old, Gina Sicilia has already been nominated for a Blues Music Award. She has received excellent notices for the three CDs she has recorded with multi-instrumentalist and producer Dave Gross, on which the Pennsylvania singer has explored various shades of American music, with a focus on blues and soul. Her just-released fourth album shows Sicilia to be a mature artist who is determined to push in interesting directions.

It Wasn’t Real marks Sicilia’s first venture recording outside of Gross’s Fat Rabbit Studios. This time, she works with Grammy-winning producer Glenn Barratt and a group of session aces from the Philadelphia area. Erik Johnson on drums, and Scot Hornick, whose fat-toned acoustic and electric bass style lends a tuba-like bottom end to the songs, form the ear-catching rhythm section on all tracks. Key contributors to the instrumental textures include Jay Davidson (saxophones), Joel Bryant (piano, Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, Fender Rhodes), and Kevin Hanson, Ross Bellenoit, and Jef Lee Johnson (guitars).

In a what might be considered a daring move on Sicilia’s part, there’s not a 12-bar progression to be heard among the nine songs she wrote for It Wasn’t Real, and only the disc’s lone cover, the sultry, swaggering “Don’t Cry Baby,” from the catalog of Etta James, qualifies as pure, tough R&B. Piano and tenor sax work hard in this deceptively quiet arrangement, but not as hard as Sicilia, who expresses a spectrum of intensity, here caressing a line, there blistering one. The singer of the poignant “Don’t Wanna Be No Mother” looks back on her dreams, realizing too late that life has delivered her elsewhere and made them impossible. A hall-of-mirrors story of betrayal and love that illustrates the inscrutability of chance, “Walkin’ Along The Avenue,” a jazzy strut in a minor key, takes on a continental patina through Dennis Gruenling’s exotic, Gallic harmonica lines. The title track, a tale of deception and heartbreak, is no less affecting for the relative simplicity of its storyline: set to a moody, noirish grind that evokes wet pavement and deep shadows, it lays bare the narrator’s anguish via snapshots from the doomed relationship.

Other, brighter tonalities provide relief. The music behind “Wake Up Next To You” underscores the dreamy lyric with touches of reggae, a hint of the Band in the chord changes, and a melodic guitar break. “City By The Water” is a light R&B ballad, stocked with warm, nostalgic images. “Please Don’t Stop” combines a second-line feel straight out of New Orleans with an irresistible vocal line. A brilliant arrangement, highlighted by Sicilia and Barratt’s backing vocals, Bryant’s keys, and Mike Brenner’s out-of-left-field lap steel, makes “Oh Me, Oh My” a pure pop success that recalls “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” or the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “What A Day For A Daydream.” “Walkin’ Shoes,” a perky country shuffle marked by tic-tac bass and dueling electric guitars, is worlds better than the pap oozing out of Nashville these days. Sicilia splits the difference in styles on the laid back “Write A Little Song With You,” genre-perfect country soul with a lovely pop sheen–a truly standout track.

With great emotional and dynamic range, and a wonderfully smoky voice, Gina Sicilia is a premier singer. Her accomplished songwriting–lyrical, narrative, and introspective by turns–continues to evolve. It Wasn’t Real, its country and pop inflections, bluesy soundscapes, and slow-burn ballads all unified by creative arrangements and soulful vocals, will hold strong appeal for fans of American music.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by the artist.

Tomorrow

tomorrow

Andy Poxon

Tomorrow

EllerSoul Records, 2013

andypoxon.com/

http://www.ellersoulrecords.com/

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.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Great Day In The Morning

images

Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans

Great Day In The Morning

ManHatTone, 2013

http://www.BradVickers.com

On Great Day In The Morning, Brad Vickers and his cohort of New Yorkers continue in the vein established over their first three releases: a full band, playing predominantly acoustially; a broad-minded attitude toward styles, with a pre-war blues and jazz feel often informing the music (due only in part to the presence of staple jug and string band instrumentation); and smart songwriting that eschews the usual suspects and subjects, and leans hard toward the lighthearted end of the spectrum.

The title track, “Chapter And Verse,” “This Might Not Be Your Day,” and “Saving String Rag” are representative good-time numbers. More serious fare comes in “Sit Down And Talk,” a terrific slow number arranged for a simple trio that hints at both Delta blues and a posh, languid sound, and the gospel-inflected “Together For Good,” sung in subdued, soulful fashion by Peters and guests Christine Santelli and Gina Sicilia. The upbeat “The Way It’s Got To Be,” the Caribbean-flavored “It’s A Good Life,” and the roll-and-tumble “Train Goin’ Westward Bound” are other solid tracks. Covers from the songbooks of Tampa Red and Memphis Minnie round out the playlist.

Vickers’s slide work is exciting, and the other instrumentalists contribute strong parts, especially Charles Burnham and Margey Peters on fiddle (if one likes that sort of thing), Matt Cowan (bari sax), Jim Davis (tenor and clarinet), V.D. King (banjolele), and guest Jeremy Baum (keys). The vocals are less assured. Vickers has a dispassionate style of delivery that, on the bright side, is unaffected. On the downside, it can tend to sound monotonal. His sometime singing partner Margey Peters has a kind of warble in her voice that recalls old-time records. That same quality, however, makes her sound pitchy.

While there are other bands that take a determinedly throwback approach, none of them, to my knowledge, is incorporating that sound as casually as The Vestapolitans, who don’t exclusively trade on it.  But I’m not certain who Vickers’s target audience may be. Fans of acoustic blues might find these proceedings a bit busy or overwhelming, yet even the uptempo numbers could, to the ears of dedicated listeners of electric blues, be perceived as a bit bloodless. In the happiest outcome, the Vestapolitans’ no-man’s-land stylings would be recognized by all as a welcome change of pace, marking the proverbial nice place to visit, even if one wouldn’t want to live there.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Independently Blue

1364-Cover

The Duke Robillard Band

with special guest Monster Mike Welch

Independently Blue

Stony Plain Records,  2013

http://dukerobillard.com/

http://www.stonyplainrecords.com/Web/artist.asp?id=418#1364

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.

 TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media.