Artist: Duke Robillard
Album: The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard
Label: Stony Plain
Release Date: 09/25/2015
Founder of the swinging Roomful Of Blues, a rocking Pleasure King and a high-flying Fabulous Thunderbird for a spell. A jazz man, a front porch pickin’ blues man and one-time guitarist for Dylan. A string band, jug band, ragtime, delta, Louisiana, Appalachian folk and Jimmie Rodgers-country aficionado. A backwards traveler, but forward thinker. A writer and singer with distinct style, and a studio owner and in-demand producer. Did I miss anything? Duke Robillard may wear a handsome, if nondescript, lid lounging on the cover of The Acoustic Blues & Roots of…, but he almost literally wears a hundred hats—all of them damn well. It’s hard to believe any one man can be as prolific as this Rhode Island Duke of the blues.
Robillard marks over a half-century of life-dedication with an album that focuses on some of his initial inspirations– extraordinarily well, I might add. The acoustic settings relegate the proceedings to a theme, and it begins with a solo tenor banjo take on Stephen Foster’s timeless “My Old Kentucky Home.” Big Bill Broonzy’s “Big Bill Blues” brings to life a man drowning on a barstool right before Duke’s own “I Miss My Baby in My Arms” captures the depression of the Great Depression in perfect character. He makes the gleaming roots of Robbie Robertson’s Band classic “Evangeline”—featuring the excellent singer Sunny Crownover—flow naturally into the witty, Chicago-style blues of “Left Handed”—with super harp by former Muddy Waters band member Jerry Portnoy. Then, in short order, it’s a Delmore Brothers tune with some “grass on its ass,” and a Sleepy John Estes by the side of the rails. The diversity never gets old. Well, actually, it does, and that’s the point. Duke plays with amazing dexterity and sings with authority and class, getting right to the emotion of every song. Subtlety and excitement all wrapped together here, folks, in one of the best overall blues albums of the year.
– Tom Clarke