Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Roomful of Blues Has It "Hook, Line & Slinker"

After 43 years, Roomful of Blues shows no sign of slowing down. From its early days with Duke Robillard leading it in its reworking of classic jump blues with pianist Al Copley, saxophonists Greg Piccolo and Rich Lataille, the band has expanded from an initial focus on the R&B of the late forties and fifties to span more recent blues and rhythm grooves. Guitarist Chris Vachon has been a main driving force of the band for at least the past two decades and saxophonist Lataille still rips off his solos while they have a new vocalist in Phil Pemberton. They have a new album on Alligator, their fourth for the label, “Hook, Line and Slinker,” that shows the band not slowing down in the least.

The present release opens with a hot rendition of the Big Maybelle classic, That's A Pretty Good Love  that opens some slashing guitar by Vachon, a bit of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson crossed with Lafayette ‘Thing’ Thomas. Its interesting to hear a male sing this, and while Pemberton has a strong voice he almost is over the top here while the horns riff in support and rhythm cooks. Gatemouth Brown’s “She Walks Right In,” is a hot jumping number with some nice sax obligatto behind the vocal, before Vachon treats us to some fifties-styled Gatemouth Brown guitar followed by some booting baritone sax from Mark Earley as the other horns riff like a mini Count Basie Band. Then we go to New Orleans for a cover of the Smiley Lewis recording from which the album gets its title, although Pemberton’s vocal can’t cut Deacon John’s Jump Blues cover much less the original.

Pemberton’s frenzied rock and roll vocal along with Vachon’s slashing fretwork are front and center on the “Kill Me,” from the Don & Dewey songbook followed by a lively reworking of a Gatemouth Brown instrumental from the early fifties, “Gate Walks the Board where Vachon, Lataille, Earley, trumpeter Doug Woolverton, and pianist Travis Colby get solo spots . Pemberton can be quite an evocative singer we he cools down a bit as on the remake of Amos Milburn’s “Juice, Juice, Juice,” while “Ain’t Nothing Happening,” cracks the tempo up on a hot Crescent City boogie (earlier waxed by Paul Gayten and Little Richard) on which Pemberton sounds at home. “Win With Me Baby” is another Peacock Gatemouth Brown recording that for some reason Robey is given here sole composer credit. Solid vocal and guitar on this with the horns providing the right atmosphere. Lieber and Stoller’s “It” is a relatively obscure Jimmy Witherspoon recording with nice vocal and good playing while the rendition of “Come On Home” is a bit less frantic that Louis Jones’ original of this early sixties R&B rave-up, followed by a reflective Pemberton on “Time Brings About a Change,” from Floyd Dixon’s songbook, with Vachon almost in a Johnny Moore vein, Woolverton adding lovely muted trumpet and a terrific tenor sax solo. A remake of a Nappy Brown recording “Just a Little Love,” closes this out with Pemberton sounding very nice and the performance sports a booting tenor sax solo.

While some of my comments with specific to specific songs may have sounded critical, the simple fact that taking this album as a whole, this may be the best Roomful of Blues recording in a very long time. Roomful of Blues has shaken up the house and that is a very good thing.

My review copy was provided by Alligator Records.

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