Duke Robillard

Passport to the Blues

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There has been no lack of Duke Robillard product on the market; the roots guitarist has recorded approximately ten albums since 2000. But he's been more of an interpreter than songwriter and there haven't been many original compositions on them. That makes this 2010 disc a welcome appearance for fans of the guitarist aching to hear fresh tunes from the Roomful of Blues founder. Perhaps touring as part of Tom Waits' band -- this disc's only cover is a roaring version of Waits' "Make It Rain" -- inspired him, but these songs combine a deep blues sensibility with a sharp band and a raw instrumental attack often lost when Robillard indulges his jazz and jump blues sides. Like Waits, he uses Howlin' Wolf as a model, especially with regard to his flinty vocals, and even titles one track "Rhode Island Red Rooster," an obvious homage to one of Wolf's most recognizable compositions. Robillard won't win any awards for his singing but he's clearly inspired here and gets by on sheer vocal enthusiasm as he spins out this rollicking collection with gruff joy. A few jazzy numbers pepper the set, especially the playful "When You're Old You're Cold," but most of the disc is dedicated to tough, aggressive, swamp-inflected blues-infused tunes. He nicks another page from Waits' early years with the spoken "Duke's Evening Blues" that would have fit well on Waits' Nighthawks at the Diner and references Waits' Rain Dogs period on the Latin-flavored "Hong Kong Suit." Robillard dives deep into slow Chicago blues on the eight-minute guitar showcase of "Grey Sky" and revives "The High Cost of Loving," a track co-written by Doc Pomus and first heard on the guitarist's 1990's Turn It Around, giving it a new lease on life. Current events are run through some choice Chuck Berry riffs on "Text Me" and on the pounding, grinding opener, "Working Hard for My Uncle," that relative named Sam. His tight backing quartet features longtime associate and original Roomful member Doug James on saxes, who adds gutsy blowing to these bluesy romps. A closing bonus jam on "Bradford Boogie" gives the listener a sense of how musically connected the bandmembers are as they feed off each other and just have fun. That camaraderie is ultimately what makes this such a successful entry into Robillard's bulging catalog.

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