Blues Full Circle
Stony Plain Records
"Blues Full Circle," the title of Duke Robillard's new Stony Plain recording, in part refers to his back to the basics approach of this mostly small band, old school blues. Duke is joined here by his long-time associates Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums with Gordon Beadle and Doug James each adding sax to one track There are guest vocals from Sugar Ray Norcia and Kelley Hunt and Jimmy Vaughan adding his guitar on one selection. Duke contributed eleven songs, eight recent ones (one a collaboration with Vaughn) and three from 30 to 45 years ago. Kelley Hunt contributed one and one was a Jimmy 'Baby Face' Lewis song.
Recording of this album was interrupted after recording of seven songs by rotator cuff surgery and after a year off the remainder was cut. I have noticed that in recent recordings Duke's phrasing of his vocals sound self-consciously deliberate. This can be heard on several tracks here including the opening "Lay a Little Lovin' on Me," although as one listens to the excellent performances here it is a minor issue. The spirit of Eddie 'Guitar Slim' Jones is evident on several selections here including the tribute "Blues For Eddie Jones" as well as "Rain keeps Falling," with the slashing guitar work and the slow "Morning Dove" that also suggests Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, one of numerous guitarists influenced by Slim (also Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Earl King).
A nicely paced shuffle "No More Tears," finds Duke more in a B.B. King guitar vein while "Last Night" is influenced by some of the Duke recordings of Bobby Bland and Junior Parker with a superb Sugar Ray Norcia vocal and Sax Beadle adding tenor and baritone. After the New Orleans groove of "Fool About My Money" with terrific piano from Bears, Kelley Hunt takes the vocal and boogie piano (Bears is on organ here) on her rollicking celebration of Duke's home studio "The Mood Room." Doug James adds baritone sax behind Duke and Jimmy Vaughan on their easy rocking instrumental duet "Shufflin' and Scufflin'," with some organ grease from Bears in addition to the expected superb solos from both guitarists.
As usual, Duke's band is in top form, and whatever quibbles I might have about Duke's singing (and it is a minor point), the music on "Blues Full Circle" is exceptional.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369) although there are corrections and minor revisions from that published review. Here is Duke and Monster Mike Welch along with Duke's band.