september 2009

Duke Robillard
Stony Plain

After doing so much good guiding other artists' recordings the past couple of years, it's about time Duke Robillard got some props for himself. He could hardly have done more to deserve them than offering Stomp! The Blues Tonight, an exciting, horn-laden, guitar-rich romp through some timeless entries evoking late '40s-early '50s R&B, and adding three original tunes to the mix for a little extra spice. Speaking of extra spice, given the number of songs here associated with great vocalists on the order of Roy Milton (two in fact—double the pleasure), Wynonie Harris, Lowell Fulson and others, the album wouldn't be what it is without some outstanding singing to go along with the robust playing. Duke delivers on that count, too, growling, snarling and moaning his way through grinders on the order of "Three Hours Past Midnight," swinging entries such as Milton's "Baby You Don't Know," bluesy, finger-snapping cocktail moments a la "Money's Getting' Cheaper" (the latter a cool, lilting interlude some may recall as once being done to a fine turn by Jimmy Witherspoon). And just as he brings in some familiar names to populate his personable horn section (sax stalwarts Doug James and Rich Lataille, long-time Robillard conspirators, and the redoubtable cornet master, Al Basile), so does he defer vocally on six occasions to the promising Canadian classic pop-style vocalist Sunny Crownover, whose smashing debut Robillard produced (see review here). Duke and Sunny get especially cozy trading spirited verses and bopping through New Orleans legend Paul Gayten's "For You My Love," a chart topping R&B hit for Larry Darnell in 1949 that is reinvigorated not only by the two singers' winning camaraderie but also for the ebullient baritone sax editorial James injects into the dialogue. Robillard and Crownover also collaborated in writing the album's most memorable, smokin' moment, the down-home stomp that is "Look But Don't Touch," during which Crownover's sassy attitude in warning off a potential, lascivious-minded suitor, because "I'm spoken for and I'm not the cheatin' kind," gets an instrumental assist from Bruce Bears's tinkling piano fills and Robillard's sizzling guitar run. Sometimes the music alone is enough to take you higher, as on the brisk shuffling instrumental, "Jumpin' the Bone," a Robillard-James confection on which the guitarist does some splendid and might tasty single-string excursions and James blurts and honks his own feisty entreaty before giving away to Basile's spunky cornet blasts as the horn section pumps and sways behind them, the soloists working out invigorating theme-and-development passages while hewing to the bright melody line. Conceptually the album is meant to evoke the transitional period when the electric guitar supplanted horns as the main combo instrumental voice, but even though the material is largely taken from that era and Crownover's engaging voice would not have been out of place back then, Stomp! The Blues Tonight is in no way a nostalgic throwback. It inhabits its day as surely as it does an earlier one, and will probably sound equally fresh when it's as old as some of the songs Duke and company explore with a bracing, fresh approach. "Everything old is new again" is the applicable phrase. —David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024