Duke Robillard and his Dames of Rhythm
As I mentioned in my 2009 review of an album by Sunny and her JoyBoys, “I’ve been listening to bandleader, guitarist and producer Duke Robillard since he fronted the first Roomful of Blues album in 1977. I was very happy to have Duke as a guest a couple of times on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show; once in the company of Kansas City legend Jay McShann, the late, great swing and blues pianist and singer. Of all of Duke’s many and varied recordings, my favorites are his swing and jazz albums. And this is one of his best swing and jazz albums.”
And the constantly delightful Duke Robillard and his Dames of Rhythm may well be his best swing and jazz album yet. Duke plays acoustic archtop guitar throughout the 15 tracks and sings lead on three songs – and duets with Sunny Crownover (of Sunny and her Joy Boys fame) on another. There are absolutely fantastic rhythm and horn sections (including my old friend Billy Novick on clarinet and alto sax) and most of the lead vocals are handled by rotating cast of extraordinary Dames of Rhythm: the aforementioned Sunny Crownover, Maria Muldaur, Kelley Hunt, Madeleine Peyroux, Catherine Russell, and Elizabeth McGovern.
These songs – all, I believe date from the first half of the 20th century – swing hard in the hands of Duke and the band. The interplay between the musicians is always a delight and each of the singers more than rises to the occasion.
Even though these songs are all familiar, they all sound terrific. Some of my favorites include Maria Muldaur’s versions of “Got the South in My Soul” and “Was That the Human Thing to Do,” two more of the several Boswell Sisters numbers she’s done over the years; Madeleine Peyroux’s versions of Fats Waller’s “Squeeze Me,” and “Easy Living,” a Billie Holiday standard (she has the perfect voice to sing Billie Holiday songs); Kelley Hunt’s versions of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”; Sunny Crownover’s duet with Duke on “From Monday On”; and “Blues in My Heart,” sung by Catherine Russell, one of my favorite jazz singers.
The album ends with the band blazing through a hot version of “Call of the Freaks,” a great old New Orleans tune composed by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell (Catherine’s father).
From beginning to end Duke Robillard and his Dames of Rhythm is filled with nothing but great stuff.