Duke Robillard
New Blues for Modern Man
Shanachie 9017

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 outfit.

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

©1999 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA