There are two Duke Robillards. One is the total blues aficionado who
cranks out remarkable CDs like Swing, After Hours Swing Session and
Duke’s Blues and collaborates on priceless gems like the late ZuZu Bollin’s
classic Texas Bluesman, the late Johnny Adams’ luscious Johnny Adams
Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, and Jay McShann’s ebullient Hootie’s Jumpin’
Blues. The other Robillard is a bluesy rock’n’roller whose catalog includes
the recent Dangerous Places, Temptation and Turn It Around.
So which one shows up on New Blues for Modern Man? Well, first the
latter, then the former. The first six tracks are fine examples of Robillard’s
rockin’ repertoire, especially the autobiographical, Chuck Berry-esque
“Jumpin’ Rockin’ Rhythm.” Then, on five of the next six cuts, Robillard
takes us back to the old school.
Despite his preservationist credentials, Robillard isn’t afraid to
experiment. This time he’s cooked up a radical reworking of Charlie
Patton’s “Pony Blues” that blends mandolin, horns, slide guitar and
something called a cumbus (it’s a sitar-like Turkish instrument) in
a swinging format that’s heavy on Marty Richards’ percussion work.
With a little imagination, you might detect a slight Jimmy Page riff
on “Addiction.” And on “You’re the Only One” Robillard cooks up some
Tex-Mex that works amazingly well. “Big Bottom Blues” is a straight-ahead
jazz instrumental that calls attention to ex-Roomful of Blues saxman
Doug James, who has now joined Robillard’s already top-notch touring
Everything here works except Robillard’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s melancholy
“Love Sick,” which is much too dreary — even for a blues album — and
at almost nine minutes, much too long.
Here’s a tip: If you prefer Robillard’s vintage blues over his rock
material, program your CD player so that the tracks play in reverse
order and drop “Love Sick.” You’ll love it.
— Dave Ranney