Monday, November 7, 2011

Deer Be Damned: Roomful of Blues Are Still the Kings of Swing

One of my favorite quotes in all the history of music reviews was a line in the Boston Globe many years ago which described my friend and guitar legend Jimmy Thackery as "... a four-hour performer. That's not how long he plays, but how long one should travel to see him." Well you can add another legendary band to the list of "four hour performers": the incomparable Roomful of Blues who were in town last night at Famous Dave's Blues Club in Uptown.

So what would make a die hard deer hunter pull up stakes on one of the most productive, (two eight points and a ten point buck), deer openers in recent memories and drive back to Minneapolis for an extended set of live music? Why that would be to see the best purveyors of traditional American Music, Providence, R.I.'s gift to the world, Roomful of Blues.

From T-Bone-esqe jump blues to New Orleans swing with a heavy dose of Earl King,to originals with the feel and authenticity of the great standards, Roomful of Blues are simply tops in their craft. Having just returned from the capitol of American music, New Orleans, a little more than a month ago where I witnessed some of the greatest music and musicians of all time, it is clear that Roomful of Blues are not only in the same league, hell that make the playoffs every year.

Like any organization that has spanned nearly four decades, occasionally one goes through the process of rebuilding. I am glad to say that the rebuilding process has been over for the current version of Roomful for a couple of years now and the band has profited from the new found stability in its line-up. Lead singer Phil Pemberton was such a great find and the perfect fit for this band. I just love listening to this guy sing. Not only does Mr. Pemberton have the right voice for this style of music, his phrasing, the subtleties he coaxes out of a song makes him fun and interesting to listen to all night long.

Just like you can't think of Herman Cain without thinking of harassment, one cannot think of Roomful of Blues without thinking horns and believe you me this band is as horny as Herman. Led by the legendary tenor player Ritch Lataille, the Roomful horns are back on top of the business but with a more laid back and more nuanced feel due in large part to its newest member Doug Woolverton who I gushed about the last time these guys were in town. My only comment this time is that at one point in the evening, I leaned over to my good friend Mike LeBeau, Roomful's longtime soundman and one of the best in the business and said flat out, "Am I being disloyal to Bubba when I say how much I love this guy's playing?" To which Mike responded: "Heck no, Bubba would be proud."

My highlights this time around were the numbers Roomful did with New Orleans icon Earl King on the great album "Glazed" and its progeny. Band co-leader Chris Vachon gets the greatest gut bucket excello records sound out of his guitar on these numbers and when mixed with the cool baritone horn honkings of the great "Top of the"Mark Early it produces a rich dark roux that makes the gumbo bubble up, jump and boil. Always a high note is that Monster from Austin, Travis (not Tritt) Colby (not Dolby) on keys and the classiest rhytym section in the business, gentleman John Turner and ever subtle and nuanced drumming of Ephraim Lowell.

All in all it was a highly enjoyable night of music by a group of "four hour performers".

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