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March/April 2022

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The Duke Robillard Band
They Called It Rhythm & Blues

Stony Plain Records

Duke Robillard

Veteran blues guitarist / bandleader Duke Robillard has certainly been one of the more prolific recording artists in the business over the last 50 years, dating back to his early days in Roomful of Blues and moving over the next decades with various bands bearing his name. We've reviewed more than a dozen Duke recordings since the start of Blues Bytes. In other words, he is no stranger to even to the most casual blues fan.

They Called It Rhythm & Blues (Stony Plain) just might be the best collection of recordings that he's put out over the years, this one billed to The Duke Robillard Band. With 18 songs covering much of the history of rhythm & blues and 10 guest stars, this is really more like having three albums in one.

Familiar names make up the core band, with vocalist Chris Cote featured on six of the cuts. Other band members include Bruce Bears (piano, organ), Marty Ballou (bass), Mark Teixeira (drums) and Doug James (sax). Cote steps up to the mic for the jumping opener, "Here I'm Is," and is also featured on the up-tempo Roy Milton R&B stomper "Fools Are Getting Scarcer," the snaky "The Way You Do," an outstanding version of the Joe Liggins blues classic "In The Wee Wee Hours," the slow Freddy King blues "Someday After A While," and the Willie Egan stop-time blues "I Can't Understand It."

Mr. Robillard sings on three numbers: the Mickey & Sylvia tune "No Good Lover," on which he shares guitar solos with Sue Foley, the always wonderful ZuZu Bollin up-tempo blues shuffle "Eat Where You Slept Last Night," and the grinding blues "Outta Here," featuring Anita Suhanin on background vocals and a strong organ solo from Bears.

Now, on to our guest vocalists.

Kim Wilson sings and plays harmonica on his own blues composition "Tell Me Why" that features Matt McCabe pounding the 88s, and then his answer to Guitar Slim on the slow swamp blues "The Things I Forgot To Do." As expected, Wilson nails it on these two tunes.

Former Roomful singer and harmonica player Sugar Ray Norcia brings his brand of down and dirty blues on Tampa Red's "Rambler Blues" and the Jimmy Nelson mid-tempo jazzy blues "She's My Baby." I love the line "... she purrs like a kitten, when she slides on my lap ..."  On this latter tune Norcia uses his harmonica as another member of the horn section, nicely complementing James" tenor sax, while Robillard chimes in with a strong guitar solo.

Michelle Willson joins the band on vocals with the rockin' R&B song "Champagne Mind," done originally by obscure blues cat Effie Smith. She then slows it down for a late-night jazzy version of "Trouble In Mind" that is one of the highlights of an album full of highlights.

John Hammond is our final guest, and as expected he takes it to more of a country blues setting with a plodding version of Little Son Jackson's "Homeless Blues" and a more downhome version of Howlin' Wolf's "No Place To Go."

Whew! That's a lot of music for one disc, and each of the 18 songs is worthy of inclusion on this collection. They Called It Rhythm & Blues is already in the running for this year's best blues album, so, needless to say, you WILL want to add it to your collection. If so, you will play it frequently. I guarantee it.

--- Bill Mitchell



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