The Duke Robillard Band

The Duke Robillard Band
Low Down and Tore Up

Stony Plain Records

By Tony Del Rey
February 2013

Music archivists are likely still basking in the nostalgic glow of last year’s Duke Robillard release, Low Down and Tore Up, a toothsome assortment of re-worked 1940s and ‘50s-era swing and jump blues obscurities. With the guitarist being portrayed as a living link to the legacy of the blues, it seems apropos that the material on this disc is as anachronistic as any curio collecting dust on the shelves of the Library of Congress.

Boasting little in the way of progressive direction beyond Sax Gordon’s sassy horn work, keyboardist Bruce Bears’ stout piano licks and Robillard’s signature buzzing guitar sound, Low Down and Tore Up doesn’t promise to be anything more than a polished bar band’s ode to a bygone era. But the album’s finer moments make it something more than just the connoisseur’s buy that it may appear to be prima facie.

New Orleans R&B artist, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford’s “Overboard” is performed at the same mad, driving pace as the original Aladdin Records recording. A rousing piano-based lick goosed along by Gordon’s hawking tenor saxophone, the track virtually jumps to Mark Teixeira’s tub-thumping drumbeat. The tune’s downhearted, yet uproariously funny run-together phrases spill from Robillard’s maw rendering him nearly breathless by song’s end:

“Well, you heard my story, boy. Now you heard my song. That woman she put me out, she know she did me wrong. And I just can’t stay around here. I just can’t be no more. She whipped me ‘cross the head with a biscuit roller. I’m goin’ down to the river, ‘gone jump overboard and drown. My baby put me out blues!”

The killing pace of “Overboard” gives way to an abrupt change in texture with the somnambulistic, “Blues After Hours.” Written and recorded in 1948 by West Coast bluesman Pee Wee Crayton, the fatigued feel of this guitar instrumental could easily have served as a template for the Santo and Johnny hit, “Sleep Walk” some 11 years later. Robillard’s playing on this number is nothing short of masterful, his leads broadcasting from a vintage Epiphone hollow-body in staccato squalls of single notes and two-string bursts of electric current. You can practically hear the tubes glowing red in his amp.

While its narrow preoccupations with fixed forms and established standards have relegated the blues genre to the anachronism that it is, Robillard avoids turning Low Down and Tore Up into the perfunctory listening experience it might have become had he chosen to record blues “must-haves” instead of the oddities featured here. And there are a several more where these came from.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go to the Library of Congress to hear them.

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