Robillard still swinging
From the Summer 2004 issue.
Blue Mood: The Songs of T-Bone Walker
By Duke Robillard
Stony Plain Records: 2004
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Duke Robillard sums it up best on back cover of his tribute to blues pioneer T-Bone Walker"
"I always knew that someday I would record a tribute to my mentor, the Father of electric blues guitar ... T-Bone Walker," Robillard writes. "Everything I play, and that includes all the records I've made since I started out with Roomful of Blues more than 30 years ago, has some T-Bone in it."
Virtually every guitar slinger playing electrified blues today owes a debt to Walker, who first plugged in about 60 years ago. But that is hardly his only contribution. Walker was a polished vocalist and an accomplished songwriter who penned such blues classics as "Call It Stormy Monday (But
Tuesday Is Just as Bad)." His impact on such guitarists as B.B. King and Albert Collins can't be denied.
But equally important is the swinging, big-band approach Walker employed on many of his recordings. As Robillard points out in the liner notes to "Blue Mood: The Songs of T-Bone Walker," he wanted to record an album that "captures the feel and natural sound of this type of band, jazz-steeped
musicians playing the blues."
Robillard is no slouch when it comes to the guitar. In fact, he recently won his fourth W.C. Handy Blues Award, being singled out as the best guitar instrumentalist at the 2004 ceremonies in Memphis, Tenn. But while he has fashioned a stellar solo career and even spent time backing up Bob Dylan on such albums as "Time Out of Mind" and playing with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robillard will always be remembered for his work with Roomful of Blues, the horn-heavy jump blues unit he helped found.
The beauty of "Blue Mood" is it sounds like a Roomful of Blues album with better material. In fact, Robillard surrounds himself with some fellow ROB alums, including saxman Doug James and trombonist Carl Querfurth. Also onboard is Sax Gordon Beadle, whose tenor sax is heard throughout and who handled the horn arrangements.
The temptation when listening to a tribute album is to measure the reworked version of a familiar hit against the original. To help limit this, Robillard had the good sense to mix in some Walker classics with some little-heard nuggets. He also has the humility to stay within the confines of the ensemble, letting his horn players step forward when appropriate instead of making his guitar the centerpiece on every song.
"Blue Mood" gets off to a rollicking start with "Lonesome Woman Blues" and the classic "T-Bone Shuffle," before slowing down the pace on "Love Is a Gamble." Robillard deserves credit for his vocals, particularly on the slower numbers. There's no way he can match Walker's singing, but he does a credible job throughout.
The most rewarding material includes songs such as "Alimony Blues" and "T-Bone Boogie," which kick the collection into high gear and allow the players to show their skills both as a unit and individually.
Since leaving Roomful of Blues, Robillard has taken detours into rock, jazz and guitar-based blues. As "Blue Mood" shows, he never lost his love for the swinging sound he explored in his early years. Some tributes are nothing more than a sidestep for an artist. Such is not the case here. This is an
impressive and reverent collection that only adds to Robillard's formidable reputation.
Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.