Duke Robillard's new Stony Plain CD, Low Down and Torn Up, presents the veteran singer and guitarist on a program of 14 interpretations of older jump blues and Chicago blues. It was recorded live with his regular band of Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums (and one vocal) with Sax Gordon playing tenor and baritone sax. Mark McCabe replaces Bears on 7 songs. Songs derive from recordings by Guitar Slim, Tampa Red, Sugar Boy Crawford, Pee Wee Crayton, Elmore James, Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy McCracklin, and Bobby 'Blues' Merrill. Most of these songs will be unfamiliar. Elmore James' Twelve Year Old Boy and Tampa Red's Let Me Play With Your Poodle, are perhaps the best known songs heard here.
The strengths of this record are the strong ensemble playing along with Sax Gordon's playing. On Eddie Taylor's Trainfare Home, Gordon sounds like a mix of J.T. Brown's nanny goat tone and Eddie Shaw's raspy overblowing attack. Robillard's vocals sound a bit muffled on this session especially on the opening interpretation of Guitar Slim's Quicksand. Tampa Red's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, sounds better, with Matt McCabe on piano evoking Little Johnnie Jones as drummer Teixeira suggests Judge Riley who played on many late 40's Bluebird Record sessions. Let Me Play With Your Poodle also sports some fine piano with a capable vocal although, in my opinion, it is not as strong as the renditions of this by Lightnin' Hopkins, Marcia Ball and Chick Willis.
Teixeira handles the vocal on a frantic rendition of Sugar Boy Crawford's Overboard, with Gordon taking a nice tenor sax solo. Blues After Hour is a nice low-key remake of the Pee Wee Crayton instrumental classic that showcases how tasteful Duke can be, while the rendition of Crayton's recording, Do Unto Others, is a rocker with a Crescent City groove and blistering guitar. Robillard's cover of John Lee Hooker's Want Ad Blues is a boogie that conjures up Hooker's 50's Vee-Jay sides. Its interesting to hear a cover of Tool Bag Boogie, one of Elmore James instrumentals where he did not play slide. Gordon rips off some hot sax while Duke plays solidly in a T-Bone Walker-ish vein.
Covers of Jimmy McCracklin, Elmore and Sugar Boy Crawford strike me as more successful instrumentally as Duke's vocals here generally strike this listener as a bit mannered, although I would suspect some of you would disagree. There is much I like about this, but I can only recommend Low Down and Torn Up with reservations.
My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release.