Thursday, December 31, 2020

Duke Robillard & Friends: “Blues Bash” (2020) CD Review

On the inside of the CD case of Duke Robillard’s new album, Blues Bash, are the silhouettes of two people cutting the rug. They are clearly having a time, and you’ll likely want to join them the moment this album’s first track begins. This is a fun album, with music to raise our spirits, just exactly the thing to help us bring in the New Year. There is no going out to celebrate this time around, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves at home. All we need is some good music, a well-stocked liquor cabinet and that one special someone to share the night. Well, this disc will provide the good music. The band is made up of Duke Robillard on guitar and vocals, Bruce Bears on piano and organ, Mark Teixeira on drums, Jesse Williams on bass, and Marty Ballou on bass, along with special guests Greg Piccolo on tenor saxophone, Rich Lataille on alto saxophone and tenor saxophone, Doug James on baritone saxophone, Chris Cote on vocals, Michelle Willson on vocals, Mark Hummel on harmonica, and Robert Welch on piano.

The group kicks off this delicious blues party with “Do You Mean It,” one of three tracks to feature Chris Cote on vocals. This one ought to get you tapping your toes, at the very least. It features some completely wonderful work on piano, as well as an excellent lead on guitar that has a classic sound. “I’ve been hurt once, baby/Can’t stand to be hurt again.” Ah yes, it is time to dance that hurt away. Then we get deeper into the blues with “No Time,” an original number written by Duke Robillard that features a great blues groove and some exceptional work on harmonica by Mark Hummel. “No time, no time/For all the things I’d like to do/Well, I ain’t got no time for me/And I ain’t got no time for you.” With the pandemic, many of us found ourselves suddenly with some time on our hands, though sadly still unable to do the things we’d really like to do. This track becomes a good little jam. Check out that work on keys. This is a song that Duke Robillard is revisiting here, having included it on his 1997 album Dangerous Place.

The party kicks into higher gear with “What Can I Do,” a ridiculously fun tune featuring a lively, spirited vocal performance from Chris Cote and some totally delicious stuff from the horn section. It is like some glorious big band blues. Pour yourself another drink, turn the volume up and let the rest of the world fade away for a few minutes. That’s followed by “Everybody Ain’t Your Friend,” a song that provides a good warning about people. I used to want to believe the best about people, even if it meant occasionally getting screwed. But the last four years have taught me that there are a lot of just plain bad people out there, people you shouldn’t trust or befriend, or even listen to. What you should listen to is the guitar work on this track. Oh man, that instrumental section is phenomenal, and not just the guitar work. I love the whole mean vibe of this song. Then we get “Rock Alley,” a delightful instrumental track featuring yet more excellent work on guitar, and some great stuff from the horn section. This music is so much fun.

Michelle Willson joins Duke Robillard on vocals for “You Played On My Piano,” another completely enjoyable track. And no, there is nothing at all suggestive in lines like “You played on my piano/And now you want to beat my drum/You think I’m gonna let you/But, baby, I ain’t so dumb” and “If you don’t stop fiddling then I’m gonna blow my top.” This guy wants to play her entire collection of instruments. “I hope you’re better at making music than you are at making love,” Michelle sings. Ouch! She is clearly having a good time with this song. You can hear the joy in her voice. Even more fun is this rendition of “Ain’t Gonna Do It.” Fats Domino never fails to raise my spirits, and these guys certainly get into the swing of this one, with some great stuff on piano. On this track, the band is different, and that’s Mark Braun on piano. Marty Richards is on drums, Marty Ballou is on bass, Al Basile is on cornet, and Sax Gordon is on saxophone. Then Chris Cote returns on vocals for “You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’.”

The album concludes with a couple of original tunes composed by Duke Robillard. The first, “Give Me All The Love You Got,” is a song that he is revisiting here. It was included on the 1985 LP from Duke Robillard And The Pleasure Kings, Too Hot To Handle. I prefer this new version, with the horn section. In this song, he declares his love for some loving, singing “Well now, we won’t ever have to fuss and fight/If you love me every morning, every noon and night/We’ll be so busy keeping to ourselves/When we get through, there won’t be time for nothing else.” The final track, “Just Chillin’,” is cool instrumental number, giving the musicians a chance to get loose. That bass line at the beginning has a sexy, sly vibe, and then that sax slides in just right. There is also some wonderful work on organ. This is one for near the end of the night, the end of the celebration, when you’re drinking out of a wine glass that you’re only somewhat confident is yours. 

CD Track List

  1. Do You Mean It
  2. No Time
  3. What Can I Do
  4. Everybody Ain’t Your Friend
  5. Rock Alley
  6. You Played On My Piano
  7. Ain’t Gonna Do It
  8. You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’
  9. Give Me All The Love You Got
  10. Just Chillin’

Blues Bash was released on November 20, 2020 on Stony Plain Records.

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