45 Live, the new Alligator CD by Roomful of Blues is a live performance that celebrates the band’s 45 years. The band started as a jump blues oriented group inspired by the music of T-Bone Walker, Roy Milton, Johnny Otis, Big Joe Turner, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and the like, and even recorded behind Turner and Vinson for a couple of quite well regarded recordings. Over the years evolved into more of an modern urban blues band (think Bobby Bland’s Duke recordings). Originally Duke Robillard fronted the band on guitar and vocals and when he left, Ronnie Earl spent a stint on guitar with Chris Vachon eventually taking over that spot which he has held for a couple decades. Philip Pemberton has been handling the vocals for some time now. Roomful has become an institution, and I say that in a positive manner in having their having an immediately recognizable sound and approach to the music.
Recorded at The Ocean Mist in Rhode Island over three nights, the disc kicks off with the driving Just Keep On Rockin’, followed by the insistent modern urban blues It All Went Down the Drain, although on this latter number and the following Jambalaya, Vachon sounds like he is trying to copy Lonnie Mack’s tone. A cover of Magic Sam’s Easy Baby gives a chance for Vachon to stretch out with the horns riffing in support. That’s Right is a superb hot jump blues performance, and is that Rich Lataille who is wailing on tenor sax (Lataille has been with Roomful for 43 years). Lataille’s homage to Illinois Jacquet, Straight Jacquet, allows Lataille, fellow saxophonist Mark Earley and trumpeter Doug Wolverton (growling with his mute) to display their chops on a number that evokes Flying Home. There are also first rate renditions of Crawdad Hole, and Somebody’s Got To Go, that Big Joe Turner and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson respectively recorded with Roomful thirty-five odd years ago. As good as these are, the interpretation of Jimmy Rushing’s I Left My Baby, is really special with Pemberton terrific and I suspect Buck Clayton would be smiling listening to Wolverton’s playing here.
Providing the foundation is the excellent rhythm section of keyboardist Rusty Scott (nice solos on Crawdad Hole and I Left My Baby); bassist John Turner, and drummer Chris Rivelli. They lay down the solid groove and cover a lot of blues genres as Rich Lataille notes, “Though we cover all the bases, our mainstay is horn-driven, hard honking R&B.” And there is plenty of that hard driving R&B here.
I received my review copy from Alligator Records. This is scheduled for release on July 30.