Bobby Murray • I’m Sticking With You

Murray

Bobby Murray

I’m Sticking With You

http://www.reverbnation.com/bobbymurray

 

Consider his association with such legends as Johnnie Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin, and Albert King; the three Grammy Awards on his shelf; and his lengthy solo career: Bobby Murray rates among the most accomplished sidemen and bandleaders in the blues. Although he is often thought of as a West Coast musician, having come up in a band alongside Robert Cray, and having enjoyed 22 years working for Etta James, after 18 years Bobby Murray is surely a Detroiter. He holds the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2011), and his fourth album as a leader features some of the Motor City’s top talent on a world-class contemporary soul blues recording.

The guitarist’s core band on the recently released I’m Sticking With You included Dave Uricek (bass), Mark Thibodeau (organ), and Renell Gonsalves (drums), with occasional guitar from recording and mixing engineer/co-producer Brian “Roscoe” White. The set list, made up entirely of Murray’s original compositions and co-writes, encompasses slinky minor key grooves in the Robert Cray mold, gospel-drenched ballads, fresh-sounding shuffles, slow blues, and inventive soul blues and funk. Murray’s unique guitar work, which blends a lowdown approach with fluid, modern lines, is at the forefront, along with the contributions of several exceptional singers who assist Thibodeau, Uricek, and Murray with vocals.

Sticking opens with “Finders Keepers,” a chugging soul-blues number from Murray’s days with Frankie Lee. Here its drive is so relentless the take could easily slide into one of Otis Clay’s live albums. Organ and guitar solos are pithy and memorable; “Red” Redding gives a smoky, restrained, yet charged vocal performance. Singer Paul Randolph is superb on the title track, a staccato dance groove with funky accents and lovely backing vocals. Murray plays jagged, tangled solos in a modern, distorted tone. On “Ooowee,” strictly a down home, Jimmy Reed-inflected shuffle, his lead work alternates lazy “traditional” blues lines and chording with burbling, rapid-fire picking, always wedded firmly to the beat.

On “Comin’ Atcha,” White and Murray spar with solos reminiscent of Robben Ford’s style, but exciting. Laying down the minor key groove on this song only is a rhythm section of Ron Pangborn (drums) and Nolan Mendenhall (bass). Thibodeau’s piano opens “Rock My Soul” with a Ray Charles quotation, leading into a deeply soulful, gospel number with a testifying vocal by Barbara Payton, a memorable, two-chord figure, chiming rhythm guitars, and crisp lead guitar with Murray sounding much like Cray. (I’m sure he tires of reading that, but on this cut it is true.) Tom Hogarth sings “Shake It Baby, Shake It,” a light, upbeat, funky tune remotely like “Groove Me,” with soul-stew double-stops and hard-driving interludes.

Redding is back at the microphone on “Baby Needs Some Lovin’ Too,” which could almost be a forgotten classic from the heyday of Chicago soul save for a middle section that bedims the song’s sunny mood (wonderful writing here), and on the slow blues “Bad Case Of The Blues,” a showcase for Murray’s tough, tasteful guitar. “Baby, What Took Your Love Away” is another crisp, mid-tempo, minor key song with dramatic movement. Murray slathers “Movin’ On Down The Line,” a swaggering blues-with-a-touch-of soul, with greasy guitar. The program comes to a close with the churning, dark funk “Building Of Love.” Take a killer bass line, add wah and/or Leslie effects on the guitar, a few catchy and complex changes, and you have a solid slab of classic Detroit soul, updated for our times.

“A modern take on classic styles” aptly describes I’m Sticking With You. Bobby Murray and company have delivered a disc that sounds fresh yet has the ring of familiarity. Its 11 tracks are well-written, expertly sung and played blues, soul, and funk, every one a winner.

TOM HYSLOP

I received this CD courtesy of the Detroit Blues Society (detroitbluessociety.org/), in whose Blues Notes newsletter of August 2014 this review originally appeared.

 

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Tinsley Ellis • Midnight Blue

Tinsley Ellis Midnight Blue Front Cover Square

TINSLEY ELLIS

Midnight Blue

Heartfixer Music, 2014

http://tinsleyellis.com/

In 2013, Tinsley Ellis released Get It, an all-instrumental album, somewhat unexpectedly composed of straightforward blues and rootsy rock songs. Now he returns with something more in line with what we have come to expect from him over 15 or so records and about 30 years in the trenches. Midnight Blue makes an emphatic statement confirming Ellis’s position not only as one of our great guitarists, but as a superior writer and singer of straight-ahead postwar electric blues and rock. Perhaps at the sacrifice of some accuracy, I’m going to cover what Ellis and company are up to under the umbrellas of three broadly defined styles.

Long acclaimed as one of the most intense and creative artists in blues rock, Ellis is assured enough to open Midnight Blue with a relatively slow number, “If The River Keeps Rising,” which starts with just his rhythmic but delicate acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. When the band comes in after the first verse, the sound explodes into a bluesy slam, à la Zeppelin’s treatment of “When The Levee Breaks,” replete with Lynn Williams’s Bonham-worthy drumming and several thickly overdriven electric guitars woven into the mix. Between its melodic sense and guitar work that, in its phrasing and high gain tonality, recall strongly Eric Clapton’s late-‘80s Journeyman period, “Harder To Find” is an affecting and atmospheric midtempo rock ballad, with an absolutely lovely middle section and chorus. Touches like a slow-wash sound that might come from a Leslie cabinet are emblematic of the attention to sonic detail on this record.  “The Only Thing” is a solid blues shuffle with stops, very much in the vein of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” that splits the difference between Howlin’ Wolf and the Jeff Beck Group. Ellis’s toppy lead guitar sound pushes it perhaps in the direction of the latter, while “Mouth Turn Dry,” a Wolf-like stomp, sports wiry guitar breaks that recall both Hubert Sumlin (naturally) and Otis Rush. Its powerful lyric touches on romantic doubt, self-centered fear, and the dangers of drink. “That’s My Story” is a heavy rocker on the slower side, set to the pulse of a steady eighth-note bass pedal, with a superb guitar ride-out that focuses more on rhythm and feel than flash. While its edgy groove doesn’t really sound like anything I would expect from Tinsley–something like AC/DC, but with a swampy CCR vibe–it is excellent.

At times, Ellis has dabbled in R&B and even soul. He returns to those styles here with “It’s Not Funny,” which features a second line beat, direct from New Orleans. The mid-song breakdown is just part of hip overall rhythm arrangement, rounded out by Ellis’s tough, Lowell George-inflected slide guitar and the song’s “Iko Iko” family feel. Its title reflects perhaps the most obvious and clever turn of phrase that should have been written into a song years ago, but wasn’t. Great call, Mr. Ellis–that is how to do it! “Surrender” is a pulsing, slow- to midtempo track with a decidedly soulful edge; call it Boz Scaggs meeting Dire Straits at their dreamiest, or something The Wallflowers might once have cut. Perfect R&B-based fills and a melodic lead guitar that escalates in intensity accompany Ellis’s quiet, honest, vocal–a performance that fits the song beautifully. The ascending chord pattern behind the likewise beautifully sung “Peace And Love” comes from somewhere in the ‘60s soul universe. Its funky, Muscle Shoals feel, accentuated by Kevin McKendree’s organ and electric piano, is cast into interesting contrast by Ted Pecchio’s very Beatles-esque bass line.

About this time last year, Ellis described himself to me, I thought apologetically, as “the rock guy” in the Blues At The Crossroads 2 package, a tour that featured The Fabulous Thunderbirds in support of guests James Cotton, Jody Williams, Bob Margolin, and Ellis. The conversation took place just moments after he had delivered a set of stellar pure blues, beautiful and savage by turn. Here, he does it on “Kiss Of Death,” a spare slow blues taken at a funereal pace, much in the mode of “Double Trouble”–I mean the timeless Otis Rush song, not SRV, folks–and does it just right. The stark, late-night ballad “See No Harm” borrows its elegant, emotional changes from Ray Charles at his most gospel-drenched, back in the Atlantic days, and rivals Brother Ray for feel and passion. Believe me, I would never type that if I didn’t mean it. This is killer stuff. McKendree’s piano is sublime, and Ellis’s fills and solo are tough and to the point without breaking the mood in the slightest; his guitar tone is woody and appropriately old school. Bravo! Never mind his history with the Heartfixers; let no one suggest that Ellis in 2014 cannot sing and play blues with the best.

I am afraid that, over the years, I forgot just how good Tinsley Ellis could be, or at least began to take him for granted. His recent work has made my lapse impossible to sustain. Anyone who likes blues-based music should find much to appreciate on the excellent Midnight Blue.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of the CD was provided by the publicity firm Blind Raccoon.

Magic Sam • Live at the Avant Garde 1968

Magic Sam

MAGIC SAM

Live at the Avant Garde

Delmark Records, 2013

The new Magic Sam album is outrageously great. I would say the same about virtually any other Sam Maghett recording–he never made a bad one, and that includes not only his studio work but the four live albums already available (five if one counts the solo house party set Give Me Time), which seem to have been taped almost by chance. Live at the Avant Garde is different in that it was recorded, at a Milwaukee appearance in 1968, to the highest standard of an amateur engineer. Though I had heard at least one of the earlier live shows in private circulation before it received its official (or semi-official) release, the existence of the Avant Garde tape came as a total surprise. Mindful of the adage about gift horses, I don’t question why it has become available after remaining a secret for so long. I am merely grateful, and deeply.

Unlike the other known live recordings of Sam, Avant Garde’s sound is clear and present, and the mix is fine (the set’s engineer and producer Jim Charne details the recording’s technical aspects in his liner notes). Sam’s voice and guitar are out front and crystal-clear, and Bob Richey’s drums are crisp as one could wish. Another reviewer has stated that Mojo Elem’s electric bass is inaudible. Not so. On my copy, it’s plenty loud enough for any blues band, provided that your taste has not been formed by rock soundmen, club DJs, or certain latter-day “blues” CD mixes. I’d also observe that Elem’s no-frills approach makes a better foundation for Sam than Bruce Barlow’s busy playing on Live 1969 • Raw Blues and the Ann Arbor sides.

Sam himself is in top form. His was one of the most intense and identifiable voices in the blues, with a resonant, declamatory style marked by an unusual reliance on tremolo (volume variation) rather than vibrato (pitch variation). In this show he sounds totally at ease, but with no diminution of his power. He is masterful. His guitar work? Hold on, baby! A red Epiphone Riviera into a Fender Twin Reverb (as shown in the cover photo, taken at the gig) yields beautiful tone, and the singular drive and depth that mark every note Sam ever committed to tape are all vividly present. A couple of hesitations and a slip of the fingers here and there are, I think, the only (barely noticeable) imperfections in an otherwise confident, peak form demonstration of Sam’s patented rhythm-to-lead playing. His creativity and energy are boundless; even the songs that appear in multiple versions across the live albums are packed with excitement and fresh ideas.

The playlist, pretty typical of Sam’s live recordings, contains a variety of material intended to entertain. Sam’s ‘50s classics, those sinuous, minor-flavored, tremolo-laden sides that defined the West Side style for all time, are represented by “Bad Luck Blues” (originally “Out Of Bad Luck”), with Lowell Fulson’s “It’s All Your Fault Baby” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Every Night, Every Day” performed in the same framework as a bonus. The innovative output of his two albums for Delmark is present in “That’s All I Need,” which retains its lilting, Sam Cooke flavor even at an accelerated tempo, and by the driving boogaloo “You Belong To Me.” Over the remainder of the 16 tracks, Sam interprets the work of heroes Bobby Bland (a live-wire “Don’t Want No Woman”), Muddy Waters (“Still A Fool”–harrowing–and “Hoochie Coochie Man”), Jimmy Rogers (“That’s All Right”), and B.B. King (a brilliant “Hully Gully Twist” and a loose “I Need You So Bad”), and contemporaries Freddy King (“San-Ho-Zay”), Junior Wells (a liquid “Come On In This House”), and Otis Rush, whose “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” is a rare and special treat. Junior Parker’s Memphis stomp “Feelin’ Good” is here, as is the instrumental it inspired, Sam’s incredible, show-stopping boogie “Lookin’ Good.”

Although Sam offers some good-natured patter and gives shout-outs to the taper and the club owners, the well-lubricated camaraderie, self-promotion, and enthusiastic banter heard in the home turf Alex Club shows are subdued by comparison in the coffee house environment. But the musical aspects of the performance are unaffected. I have eagerly, and repeatedly, listened to everything that has come out on Magic Sam, regardless of its audio fidelity, and Sam has never let me down: He always brought it. Sam died too young and not often enough recorded. Improbably, given its late release, Live at the Avant Garde is all cream; nothing about it asks the listener to settle for anything less than the best. And Magic Sam was the best. His unsurpassed charisma and talent continue to thrill, 45 years later. Live at the Avant Garde is a dream come true for fans of electric blues in general and Magic Sam in particular.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this album from bluebeatmusic.com and received this review copy from the label.

Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings • No Fluff, Just The Stuff

Holland_Stuff

Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings

No Fluff, Just The Stuff

E Natchel Records, 2013

http://www.tomhollandshufflekings.com/

From the beginning of his 15+-year career, Tom Holland was among the most sought-after sidemen in Chicago, first joining John Primer’s band, then Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s. His experiences backing everyone from Robert Lockwood Jr. and Jody Williams to Son Seals and Jimmy Johnson rounded out an enviable apprenticeship program. Holland led his own band practically from the start, and while more than a decade has elapsed since the first Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings CD was released, the southpaw guitarist has hardly been taking it easy. He played extensively behind Carey Bell and Hubert Sumlin, and has toured with James Cotton for almost 10 years now. Five years ago, he recorded an album of guitar-piano duets with Marty Sammon, and he has appeared on records by artists including Cotton, Mud Morganfield, and Alabama Mike.

Now he is back with a new long player of his own. Convening at Felix Reyes’s friendly House of Tone, a studio noted for producing warmly authentic sounds, the Shuffle Kings–Holland, Mike Scharf (bass), Tino Cortes (drums), and Big D (harmonica)–really delivered on these 10 original songs. The rhythm section has a solid feeling for the blues, and, in true Chicago fashion, the harp takes a central place in the mix, but Big D never overplays. Holland sings unaffectedly, and his guitar work is in the camp of understated perfection still practiced by contemporary players like Lurrie Bell and (more directly) Primer, whose slide and single-string styles Holland has absorbed thoroughly.

The opening track, “Waiting On The Other Shoe To Drop,” incorporates some unusual changes that lend it the flavor of the Darrell Nulisch-era Broadcasters, when Ronnie Earl led the toughest blues band on the planet. But in general, the material offers a survey of real deal Chicago blues. Some titles are direct from the vintage stylebook: “Shuffle King Boogie,” a brisk jump number in the tradition of Jimmy Rogers’s “Rock This House,” features guests Sammon and Primer. In the Muddy Waters-style slow blues, “Hurry Up & Wait,” Holland again echoes Rogers (with touches of Lockwood) and evokes Muddy’s slide, filtered through Primer; Big D lays down deep swoops and squalls. Perhaps evidence of the Cotton connection, the record’s title track is a raw, harmonica-heavy boogie along the lines of “Evans Shuffle” or “Juke,” with hints of Elmore James’s “Bobby’s Rock” in Holland’s low-register riffing.

Other songs edge stylistically closer to the present day. “Look Here Baby” is a rumba blues with more than average bounce to the ounce, due largely to Cortes’s enthusiastic drumming. Sammon turns in another terrific solo, and Holland constructs a remarkable rhythm figure of hip lines, cool chords, and perfect single-note bass parts. (His solo is dynamite, too.) The loose-jointed shuffle “More Things Change” comes straight out of the John Primer mold and, in fact, spotlights the master himself, executing many of his signature guitar moves. “Hey Pardner!” is an up-tempo instrumental, based on “Shake For Me,” that shows Holland learned more than a few tricks while backing up Hubert Sumlin. As he plays off of Big D, Holland steers his soloing in the latter half of the song into something more original.

“Long Road To Tomorrow”–churning, minor funk with a more contemporary Chicago feel–wouldn’t sound out of place on any record by Vance Kelly, Primer, or Willie Kent. In “Easiest Thing I’ll Ever Do,” a mid-tempo soul original, Holland plays an easygoing, melodic vocal line against a galloping rhythm. D’s harmonica capably fills the spaces that horns or keyboards might ordinarily take up. Exploring the opposite side of that lyric, Holland gives us “Hardest Part Of Loving You,” a devastating, slow minor blues. Marty Sammon’s piano is brilliantly Spann-like, and D lays it down heavy. Holland sings with real urgency, and, on guitar, alternates tremolo-picked passages with deliberate slow phrases of frightening intensity. With Otis Rush out of commission, it seems that far too few people play (or know how to play) this kind of thing right. Thank goodness Holland paid attention when he was hanging out with the late, great Magic Slim.

In tipping his ever-present cowboy hat to his influences, Tom Holland has cut an excellent album. No Fluff, Just The Stuff makes a strong case that Chicago blues (and I don’t mean the modern rock-and-funk hybrid that too often passes) remain vital and valid.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from the artist.

Deal With It

4Jacks

4 Jacks

Deal With It

EllerSoul Records, 2013

http://ellersoul.com/

As an institution, the supergroup has an uneven history, particularly in terms of artistic success. When 4 Jacks formed, therefore, the band at once faced a challenge of sorts. The Washington, D.C.-based Big Joe Maher is here, singing and drumming as he does in his own band, the Dynaflows. Texan Anson Funderburgh, who led The Rockets for many years, is widely considered to be one of the most tasteful guitar stylists and tone kings working in blues. The Nashville keyboard ace Kevin McKendree, who has worked with both Maher’s Dynaflows and Funderburgh’s Rockets, is perhaps best known as a member of Delbert McClinton’s band and has also recorded and toured with Brian Setzer; among his many credits are projects with Lee Roy Parnell, Tinsley Ellis, Robert Ward, Tad Robinson, Seth Walker, and Watermelon Slim. Steve Mackey, another session veteran and McClinton band member, holds down the electric bass chair.

Obviously the 4 Jacks bring with them a history of high standards. Deal With It more than lives up to expectations. The jumping little number “Have Ourselves A Time” swings hard, with Maher smoothly delivering a good-time invitation and Funderburgh combining cunningly bent notes and clipped phrases. “She Ain’t Worth A Dime,” a rowdy shuffle very much in the style of J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk To Your Daughter,” features a rippling piano solo and an enthusiastic vocal. The wry “Bobcat Woman” describes a certain type of disagreeable lover who will be familiar to any regular blues listener. Featuring McKendree on organ, this Texas shuffle will be a tonic for Rockets fans waiting for Funderburgh to uncoil his patented, stinging leads. Maher’s fast “Thunder And Lightning,” working off of the framework of “Feel So Bad,” is another showcase for Funderburgh’s staccato lines.

The stark, Latin-tinged “Love’s Like That,” a minor key piece, hinges on Mackey’s bass guitar figure and Maher’s tom-tom rolls. McKendree’s chords and single-note rolls are impeccably timed; Funderburgh squeezes out perfect notes and phrases almost stingily; and the vocal is subdued, almost downcast. It is superb. The assuredly paced slow blues “Your Turn To Cry” is arranged with both piano and organ; chord substitutions give it a more sophisticated feel than Otis Rush’s familiar version. Another slow number, “Bad News Baby,” features beautiful interplay among the band members and a sublime guitar break.

The Jacks play it superbad and funky on the Percy Mayfield composition “I Don’t Want To Be President,” with wiry guitar and a friendly, very funny vocal performance. Maher’s spoken introduction and vocal on “Ansonmypants” are as playful and spirited as The Big Bopper’s on “Chantilly Lace.” Here McKendree solos on piano and dials in a roller-rink organ sound, while Funderburgh shifts into T-Bone Walker mode. Three instrumentals round out the program. “Texas Twister” combines blues and R&B in the fashion of Freddy King’s classic instrumentals, and is every bit as catchy; your mind’s eye may well see go-go dancers. The title track has more than a hint of King in its hook, but takes on a definite Stax flavor once McKendree solos, with the drawbars set to give the organ that unmistakable, slightly hollow tone so characteristic of Booker T. At the end of the playlist, “Painkiller” evokes The Meters’ funk with clever syncopation and a “Cissy Strut”-like design. Pieces like these present a case study in how four truly hip parts can interlock seamlessly, when great individual players are also great ensemble players. More importantly, they are downright fun to listen to. 4 Jacks sound like they are having an uncommonly good time making music–their feel is always right on target. An exciting survey of blues and R&B styles, Deal With It never comes close to striking a false note. Highly recommended.

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.