Duke Robillard – Calling All Blues

Duke Robillard is a blues guitar icon.  A multiple Blues Music Award winner and Grammy nominee, if Robillard had stopped at creating the jump blues revival outfit Roomful of Blues in the late 1960s, his contribution to blues music would have been sizable. Jump blues, an up-tempo form of blues often featuring horns that was popularized during the 1940s war years, has an old-timey feel that is a refreshing change from more traditional blues forms.

RobillardBut Robillard didn’t stop at helping to revive jump blues. Over a career spanning decades, Robillard has explored many avenues of blues, rock and even swing both in his solo work and as a member (replacing Jimmie Vaughan) of the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early 1990s. Over the course of his career he has also worked with such artists as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Dr. John. To get a flavor of Robillard’s range, check out the snappy After Hours Swing Session from 1990, featuring Robillard channelling Charlie Christian’s swing-era jazz, and the tour-de-force Living With the Blues from 2002. There is also his 2005 collaboration with Ronnie Earl, The Duke Meets the Earl, which was the first collaboration between these two great Roomful alumni.  Last year’s Independently Blue was yet another in a long line of outstanding releases.  Robillard also puts on a great show in which his slick swing and jump blues playing distinguishes him from the many other excellent guitarists occupying the field.  After a recent concert at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, which featured a huge variety of styles, Robillard commented that he would be happy to play swing all night long if his audiences would go for it.

Calling All Blues is an electic mixture, but there are several outstanding tunes on the album.  Among the highlights are “Blues Beyond the Call of Duty,” featuring vocals by Sunny Crownover and Robillard’s awesome guitar skills; “Confusion Blues,” with vocals by jazzy vocals by Bruce Bears, provides a hint of Robillard’s jump blues and swing affinity; and “Motor Trouble,” with its slow vibe, could be interpreted as a metaphor for aging.  Robillard was joined on the album by the regular members of The Duke Robillard Band, which features Bears on piano and keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Texeira on drums.  Crownover and a horn section comprised of Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton put in guest appearances.

 

Audio Stream: Duke Robillard, “Motor Trouble”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

2014 Americana Music Awards

On September 17th, the glitterati of the Americana Music Scene gathered at the historic Ryman Theater for their annual Awards show and presentation.  Mayer and I were lucky enough to procure a seat to the festivities.  You can get a full list of the award nominees and winners here, but these are the highlights from our perspective.


Jason Isbell walked away with a sweep of the big 3 for Southeastern; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year.  His performance of Cover Me Up with wife Amanda Shires was excellent, and afterwards he noted that he’d written the song for her.  He recounted how scary it was to sing it to her the first time, and in accepting the Song of the Year award he encouraged the audience to “do what scares you”.


The House Band for the show was led, as always, by Buddy Miller.  This year it also included Don Was on bass, Ry Cooder on guitar, and Ry’s son Rocky Cooder on drums. They were joined by renowned session musicians Tim Lauer (keyboards), Brady Blade (percussion) and the McCrary Sisters (vocals).  A lot of people would argue Miller is the premier guitarist in Americana music today, but after the awards show I think you’d have to say it’s a two-man race with Ry.  Cooder really turned it loose from the opening number, a sizzling version of Willie Dixon’s You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover.  His duet with Flaco Jimenez on a Norteno number was also a highlight, as was his and Miller’s playing on Valerie June‘s “You Can’t Be Told.”

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

The Ryman has been called by many the Mother Church of country music.  The church theme covered several excellent performances, not the least was Loretta Lynn singing Coal Miner’s Daughter on the very same stage she debuted at the Opry 54 years ago to the day from the awards night.  Also taking advantage of the spiritualness of the place was Parker Millsap doing Truck Stop Gospel and St. Paul & the Broken Bones creating their near-religious-experience aura with The Grass Is Greener.

 

 

 

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

Finally, you have to make some kind of effort to pick a favorite in a night with over two dozen performers.  No disrespect to the youngsters, but the edge goes to a couple of veterans.  Marty Stuart And His Fabulous Superlatives nailed a cover of No Hard Time Blues, a Jimmie Rodgers number performed in honor of the Rodgers Museum.  Stuart also brought a train lantern originally owned by Rodgers which gave his introduction and performance an extra air of authenticity. After a heartfelt intro from Keb Mo, who noted the man was doing world music before there was such a category, Taj Mahal did a version of Statesboro Blues that trumped any other version I’ve ever heard, and there are a lot of them.


The evening finished with an ensemble performance of Johnny Cash’s Get Rhythm, that featured Cash family members Carlene Carter and Roseanne Cash.  With that, the audience went into the night and the beginning of 4 nights of showcases that Mayer and I will cover in future posts.

 


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

E.G. Kight – A New Day

E.G. Kight’s is a unique voice in contemporary music.  Her heartfelt, gospel and country-tinged blues blend American traditions into a toe-tapping good time.  Her latest album, A New Day, demonstrates what her dedicated following has known since the late 90s – that she is a special talent.

Though Georgia native Kight grew up listening to old time country music like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and singing gospel in church, it is said she discovered her true calling upon listening to “queen of the blues” Koko Taylor as a teen.  Since the 1990s, the guitarist and vocalist has been writing and playing the blues, and she survived a serious illness to continue on making music.

A New Day is the eighth album to be released by Kight.  Kight wrote or co-wrote all the songs, with co-writing credits for five tunes going to Tom Horner and one each to the late Ann Rabson (Uppity Blues Women) and Lisa Biales.  Album highlights include “Holdin’ On,” “Graveyard Dead Blues,” “Don’t Give Up,” “Bad Times” (a duet with Greg Nagy), and “Low Mileage Woman.”  For the album Kight was joined by Gary Porter on drums, Johnny Fountain on bass, Ken Wynn on guitar and Mike Harrell on keyboards along with guest appearances by album producer Paul Hornsby on keyboards, Tommy Talton on guitar and Nagy. 

Audio Stream: E.G. Kight, “Don’t Give Up”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Rob Stone – Gotta Keep Rollin’

Rob Stone plays good, honest blues.  A Boston native, harpist Stone followed a straight-forward style in the Chicago electric blues tradition on Gotta Keep Rollin’.  Stone’s tight band his has put together a first-class seRob Stonelection of rollicking tunes that is sure to enhance their growing reputation in the blues world.

Stone has been leading his own outfit – once called the “C-Notes” – since the late 1990s.  Previous offerings included No Worries in 1998, Just My Luck in 2003 and Back Around Here in 2010.  The group has played styles ranging from jazzy jump blues to the Chicago electric blues of Gotta Keep Rollin’.  The song selection on Gotta Keep Rollin’ is solid top to bottom, but highlights include “Lucky 13,” “Anything Can Happen,” “Move Baby Move,” “Strolling with Sasquatch” and the rousing closer “Not No Mo.”

To accomplish the polished electric blues sound on Gotta Keep Rollin’, Stone was joined by longtime bandmates guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn, both of whom played with Stone in former Paul Butterfield Blues Band drummer Sam Lay’s band in the 1990s.  More than just sidemen, James and Rynn co-wrote all the originals on the album.  Stone also had some help from Boston-area pianist David Maxwell, a former sideman to James Cotton and Otis Rush whose own back catalogue of critically acclaimed work includes 2012’s inspired Blues In Other Colors, and slide-guitar ace John Primer, a former Muddy Waters and Magic Slim sideman who came into his own in the 1990s. 

Audio Stream: Rob Stone, “Anything Can Happen”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Sena Ehrhardt – Live My Life

Sena Ehrhardt is a big voice from a smal town. Ehrhardt’s third album, Live My Life, is a polished musical offering that is sure to cement her reputation as a rising star in blues music.

Originally from a southern Minnesota town known more for lunch meat than blues music, the dynamic singer inherited her passion for blues from her father, who worked in regional blues bands for 40 years.  She attributes her ambition to growing up in a musical household and credits opportunities to see touring acts, including a performance by Luther Allison shortly before his death that took her breath away.  After graduating from college, she paid her early dues in her father’s band, Plan B, which gradually became the Sena Ehrhardt Band when her reputation took hold.  On her first two albums, Leave the Light On in 2011 and All In last year, her band continued to be a family affair, with her father anchoring as lead guitarist.

Sena Ehrhardt

But on Live My Life, Cole Allen replaced father Ed on guitar and also became her songwriting partner.  The album, like the glossy cover, is slicker than her earlier albums and may have some crossover appeal among rock audiences.  But at its heart it is still a blues album, and Ehrhardt’s talent is in the blues.

Live My Life is a mix of originals and covers.  Ehrhardt and Allen’s “Things You Should Know” and “Everybody is You” are solid tunes.  The title tune, written by Allen, is a fine blues-rocker.  She also does a good job on covers such as Leon Russell’s “Help Me Through the Day” and Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money.”

Along with Ehrhardt and Allen, the album features St. Paul Peterson and Rick Roussell on bass, Michael Bland and Paul Peterson on drums, and Bruce McCabe on piano, with guest appearances by rhythm guitarist Jimi “Primetime” Smith and slide guitarist Smokin’ Joe Kubek.  The album was produced by prolific Minneapolis sound master David Z.

Audio Stream: Sena Ehrhardt, “Everybody Is You”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.