It’s tempting to say that, following a somewhat less-than-stellar outing featuring his own compositions, Duke Robillard has returned to doing what he does best – covering blues classics with swinging, swaggering aplomb. But then, truth be told, Robillard’s pretty darn good at just about any musical undertaking …
Robillard first made his name as a co-founder of perennial favorites Roomful Of Blues, an outfit that’s still going strong. He’s since dabbled in rock (for a while he was the guitarist for The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and led his own Pleasure Kings through a few recordings) and jazz. Producer extraordinaire, he’s also been instrumental in resurrecting the careers of a number of almost-forgotten legends, all while cranking out disc after disc of superior guitar-oriented music.
If Robillard has a weak spot, it’s his writing. While the songs on Passport To The Blues were musically sound, the lyrics simply lacked resonance. Not quite trivial, perhaps, but coupled with his idiosyncratic vocals, the material failed to make much of an impression. No such problems here, though, as he rips through a set of lesser-known tunes by the likes of Guitar Slim, Elmore James, Tampa Red, and John Lee Hooker. Carefully choosing songs that haven’t been done to death – Pee Wee Crayton’s “Blues After Hours” is probably the best-known of the bunch – he swings like mad through a set that combines solid material with instrumental excellence.
Robillard is once again working with his own core group – drummer Mark Teixeira, who takes a vocal turn for the first time, bassist Brad Hallen, and pianist Bruce Bears – all of whom seem of one musical mind, with the entire album recorded in just a couple of days. Also on hand are old friends Matt McCabe (piano on a handful) and the great Sax Gordon, who contributes raunchy sax that’s nasty and downright sleazy in all the right ways. Indeed, Gordon gets almost as much solo time as Robillard himself, and together the two tear the paint off the walls with blistering fretwork and brazen, ballsy brass. Always a rather mannered singer, Robillard’s in fine form on this outing, putting more passion into the vocals than he has for a while. He positively roars through opener “Quicksand,” and doesn’t let up ‘til, fourteen tracks later, he struts jauntily through “Later For You Baby” – both tunes courtesy of Guitar Slim. Teixeira won’t win any awards for his turn at the mike, but he gets the job done on the furiously fast “Overboard.”
In keeping with the vintage material, Robillard wanted to capture the spontaneous, live-off-the-floor sound of the original recordings. With very few overdubs, this is the sound of a ferociously hard-working band, though technology provides a cleaner and better-defined recording than the originators could have imagined.
Robillard is always worth a listen for the sheer musicality of his fretwork; this is a guy who can swing at any speed, and he never seems to run out of musical ideas. Those qualities occasionally result in self-indulgence, but here he’s fully focused, lean and mean yet irresistibly exuberant throughout. Low Down And Tore Up is one of the best in Duke’s extensive and admirable discography – very highly recommended!