Roomful of Blues

Roomful of Blues
Raisin’ A Ruckus

Alligator Records

By Karen Nugent
May 2008

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The latest release from New England’s long-standing swing favorite is causing quite a ruckus of its own, getting regular airplay, and busting blues and roots charts.

The band, born in Rhode Island, has been around for about 40 years, with a variety of musicians coming and going.

This incarnation features newcomer Dave Howard on vocals and harmonica, (although I don’t hear much harp on the disc,) along with longtime guitarist Chris Vachon, the producer of the album.

Sadly, it also marks the last recording of long-time trumpeter Bob Enos who passed away suddenly while on tour in January, just before the disc was released.

The 14-song disc has several originals by Vachon, Howard, Tavis Colby, the piano and organ player, and saxophonist Rich Lataille, who wrote the title track, a jazzy instrumental gem with phenomenal horns – one of this band’s trademarks. By the way, Lataille is the only original member of Roomful on the disc.

The band is rounded out with Ephraim Lowell on drums, Dimitry Gorodetsky on bass, and Mark Earley on tenor and baritone sax.

The addition of Howard’s gravely voice is a plus to Roomful’s popular jump swing and powerful horn section. It gives some cred to the band’s name, which more aptly should be “roomful of jazz and swing.”

One of the best cuts on the album is “Big Mamou,” a fun Cajun-laced song, that, along with the party tune, “New Orleans” made famous by Gary U.S. Bonds, gives the disc a nice taste of the French Quarter. The Francais vibe continues a few songs later with “Sweet Petite,” although, like much of this disc, is more on the swing side of the street.

There is one slow standout blues classic, Jessie Mae Robinson’s “Black Night,” with Howard giving it the right amount of low-down smoky vocals, and Vachon wailing on sad guitar.

“While I Can,” a sort-of bluesy – but kind of country - original by Vachon’s wife, Bethie Vachon, features the missus on vocals.

“Boogie-Woogie Country Girl” showcases Colby on piano, really pounding out those barrelhouse scales.

“Solid Jam,” another Chris Vachon original, which sounds a bit like John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” or “Boom Boom,” is a pleasing enough, danceable number.

Another highlight is the disc’s opener, “Every Dog Has Its Day,” with Howard’s vocals particularly strong and somewhat clearer than on the other songs.

I can do without the last tune, “Life Has Been Good,” a happy little ditty about love and marriage. I know blues can make you feel good, but it’s not supposed to be all hearts and flowers, is it?

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