The title is bound to confuse (and possibly annoy) some blues purists. Except for a handful of straight blues numbers -- including one of the most heartfelt T-Bone Walker tributes ever in "Duke's Mood" -- Duke Robillard Plays Blues: The Rounder Years is mostly a rock-oriented anthology drawn from the post-Roomful of Blues but pre-Fabulous Thunderbirds stage of Robillard's career. No bonus tracks or previously unissued takes -- just reissued material culled from four albums released on Rounder between 1983 and 1991. (Note that Robillard's "Rounder Years" also produced some fantastic swing music, but you won't find any of it here since it's been allocated to the sister compilation Duke Robillard Plays Jazz: The Rounder Years.) The '80s were an interesting decade for Robillard, as he took on a more stripped-down, roots rock (but still bluesy) approach with his trio, the Pleasure Kings, and then headed into that contemporary blues-rock zone often associated with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan. For Robillard, it wasn't always an ideal fit, but he obviously had fun doing it; you can sense his playful swagger on power-chord rockers such as "You Got Me" and "If This Is Love." Still, it's the "simpler" blues format that seems to really unleash the fire in Robillard's guitar playing, the best example being the marathon 12-bar shuffle "I Think You Know" (which also happens to be the first blues tune Robillard ever wrote). Overall, Plays Blues: The Rounder Years isn't a bad start, but if you're after the real thing, check out Duke's Blues, which Robillard specifically recorded as a tribute to his blues heroes.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Chang