Online since August 2002

Throwbacks with style

Reviewed July 2009

Stomp! The Blues Tonight
Stomp! The Blues Tonight
By Duke Robillard

Stony Plain Records: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Stomp! The Blues Tonight
Introducing Sunny and Her Joy Boys
By Sunny Crownover and Her Joy Boys

Stony Plain Records: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Guitarist Duke Robillard has been playing blues and swing jazz music since the late '60s, as a founding member of Roomful of Blues, a replacement for Jimmie Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds, as a session player, and with his own bands.

In recent years, he has taken on the role of an elder statesman of sorts, releasing albums regularly that range from straight blues to last year's "A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard," which was mostly swing jazz.

The new one, "Stomp! The Blues Tonight," is a hybrid that gives Duke and his band a chance to play blues with a big-band flavor, using a full horn section on most tunes. Like most Robillard discs, this one is a generous offering, 16 tunes, with plenty of variety. The guitar work by Robillard is sharp throughout, with more of an edge than the style he uses on his jazz-style recordings; he is a master of using round tone and clean phrasing.

The tunes include "Do Me Right," a brisk workout which showcases Robillard's vocals and fluid guitar lines, and an instrumental take on "Frankie and Johnny" that shows his ability to improvise outside of the box in a swing jazz tune. Singer Sunny Crownover is featured on several cuts, and handles the blues very well. The duet "I Wanna Hug You, Kiss You, Squeeze You" is a clear highlight as both she and Robillard are obviously having fun and the arrangement is perfect. "Tore Up" is an old Ike Turner rocker, and is played with plenty of gusto and another standout solo by Robillard.

"Stomp! The Blues Tonight" is different music than most blues discs out there, a deliberate attempt to capture a '50s-type blues sound, with a full band, no long solos and a variety of soloists. It succeeds in this regard and the result is quite enjoyable.

~ ~ ~

"Introducing Sunny and Her Joy Boys" is a trip through the American Songbook by Robillard and a collection of musicians he gathered for the project, including Crownover on vocals. The arrangements for the most part are two acoustic, archtop guitars (with Robillard taking tasteful leads), standup bass and Billy Novick on clarinet or alto sax with a one-take sound, and Crownover giving her readings of mostly 1930s and '40s blues and jazz standards.

"Strictly From Dixie" is the opener and sets the tone; Crownover seems very comfortable, and the band manages to sound like a Dixieland combo for this Ella Fitzgerald tune. "That's My Desire" is a slower ballad, and Crownover's voice seems underpowered for the emotional tone of this song as well as the smokey "You're My Thrill."

On the swing tunes, though, she has a pleasant, peppy quality to her voice that fits the songs just right. "I Don't Mind," a Duke Ellington cut from the '40s, works particularly well, and Billie Holiday's tricky "Travellin' All Alone" also clicks. "I've Got it Bad and That Ain't Good" is framed in a live studio take with very good sax work to set the mood, but again Crownover's small voice lacks impact in the spotlight. This may be an issue with the mix on the ballads as much as anything, since she sings well, but at times just doesn't have the vocal oomph to take over a great ballad.

A highlight is another of Fitzgerald's favorites, "Undecided," which despite the small, acoustic combo manages to generate big-band energy. The band (on this cut and throughout) is sharp in creating bottom and decoration for these old-fashioned tunes, with Novick in particular shining on cut after cut. The selection of songs by Robillard also scores points for nostalgia and eclecticism.

This is the kind of music that used to be played when people had record players. Not turntables, record players, and music was listened to in relaxed surroundings and appreciated. It is good to see it is still being made.

Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.

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