Monday, January 9, 2012

Low Down and Tore Up reviewed by David Stine

Low Down and Tore Up
Duke Robillard Band
Stony Plain Records
14 tracks/49:13

Duke Robillard can be likened to your favorite chain restaurant; he’s tasty, consistent, and even though his “menu” might change slightly from “meal” to meal, you know, pretty much beforehand what you’re going to be tasting. The only difference is Duke doesn’t tour much so he’s not everywhere. The Duke Robillard Band’s latest, Low Down and Tore Up, stays pretty much true to his established format: jump blues with some Chicago style thrown in with Duke on guitar and vocals, Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on bass, and Mark Teixeira on drums. Sidekick Sax Gordon adds tenor and baritone sax parts on all but thee cuts.

The disc starts with Eddie Jones’ (AKA Guitar Slim) “Quicksand.” Here we have a nice walking blues with interplay between guitar, sax and piano. No surprises, but if you’re a Duke fan do you really want any? The tempo picks up a bit for Eddie Taylor’s “Trainfare Home”; more piano, more sax and Duke’s signature fat guitar sound. There’s a nice “Got My Mojo Workin’” break in the middle.  The next cut is titled “Mercy Mercy Mama,” another gem unearthed by Duke who is the master of little known blues finds. The standard blues framework is augmented with Bears’ New Orleans style piano giving the song a nice twist. “Overboard,” another find, is a great jumpin’ collision of vocals, sax and piano. If you can just sit and listen to tune you must be in a coma! Great fat guitar from Duke. This is where he lives and breathes, that sound that came out of guitars right after the big bands when venues and orchestras got smaller and smaller. The band slows it down, thankfully, for Pee Wee Crayton’s “Blues After Hours.” More tasty riffs from Duke and low down piano and standup bass. The drums are barely there. Oh yeah!  Bartender, another drink please. Ready to boogie? John Lee Hooker’s “Want Ad Blues” is next. The signature one-chord romp is here with some added stops. Not known for his licks, any Hooker tune is wide open for interpretation by others. Duke does a nice job of staying true to the original and yet slapping his signature on this tune and yes, you can hear some John Lee in the guitar riffs. Dave Bartholomew might not be a common name to those who don’t travel to New Orleans, but he’s a giant among giants in that town. Duke’s rendering of Bartholomew’s’ “Do Unto Others” adds to Duke’s desire to expose lesser-known songwriters to his audience. Jimmy McCracklin, too, is not a household name but Duke’s take on “It’s Alright” might change all that. Yes, more formula here: sax, piano, jazzy guitar, and Duke’s bitten-off vocal phrasing. Remember, you came here for consistency. Song nine is  Marcia Ball’s “Play With Your Poodle.” With less pounding piano, the listener is forced to pay more attention to the lyrics and coming from a male, this song is much more, well, suggestive. From the Elmore James vault comes “Tool Bag Boogie,” another swinging tune allowing Bear and Gordon to step into the spotlight. “What’s Wrong,” again, is a nice find. The “Hoochie Coochie Man” riff meets Duke’s big band sentiments somewhere in New Orleans. That’s my description and I’m sticking to it! “I Ain’t Mad At You” might be familiar to you but what stands out here, and throughout the disc is how much Duke can do with a small cast. You swear you’re enjoying a 10-11 piece band. Nice. Another in the “low down” bracket is the funny/sad “The 12 Year Old Boy.” Where does he find these things? The disc ends, as it began, with another Guitar Slim tune: “Letter For You Baby.”

The disc ends, as it began with the ensemble doing what it does best, deliver that the guests ordered: taste, consistency and satisfaction. Duke is productive, but he doesn’t change it up much. Maybe this is the secret to his success. Happy listening!

Reviewed by David Stine

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