Roomful of Blues
The New England-based Roomful of Blues is now 35 years old. That’s Right!, the octet’s first album for Alligator and the group’s 17th record, is a wonderful collection of songs of many styles, from the opening zany jump blues of the title track all the way to a convincingly raunchy take on Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues,” in the process touching on jazz/swing, sophisticated B.B. King-style orchestral blues, New Orleans R&B, early Rock’n’Roll / R&B, a couple of slow crying blues shuffles and more.
Only guitarist and de facto leader Chris Vachon, saxophonist Rich Lataille and trumpet-player Bob Enos remain; the rest of the group is new and fresh, including vocalist Mark DuFresne, who’s especially convincing on slow numbers and ballads, like the Big Maybelle classic “Ocean of Tears,” and bass player Brad Hallen, who really gets noticed here.
While Vachon and Lataille get the bulk of the solos, you’ll also hear DuFresne (on harmonica), Enos, baritone sax player Mark Earley and keyboardist Mark Stevens taking some turns under the spotlight. All are topnotch musicians, and as a group they really seem to enjoy playing with each other, which makes this record a joy to listen to time and again.
Contrary to some of their latter work, That’s Right! achieves a good balance between sweet moments and more rockin’ times, between romantic nostalgia and electric party moods.
On the down side, there is no original material (usually, at least Vachon and Lataille come up with instrumentals of their own), but at least there is a conscious effort to avoid the overdone covers. The B.B. King tune, “We can’t Make It,” for example, is rarely performed nowadays. This means that, as you enjoy the music and take a tour of various jazz and blues styles, you also (re)discover obscure songs and/or songwriters.
Roomful of Blues could have been content with making a thoroughly enjoyable album, but they went even further --- they did so while at the same time educating the listener.
Great! That’s right! (www.roomful.com)
--- Benoît Brière
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