In the blues world it's OK to be a late bloomer, and when it came to recording, Joe Beard was exactly that. The charismatic singer/guitarist, whose influences range from Jimmy Reed to Lightnin' Hopkins, worked "day gigs" when his kids were growing up and didn't start to build a catalog until he was in his fifties. Blues lovers who heard Beard's AudioQuest dates of the '90s found themselves saying, "Hey, this guy is very talented; why haven't I heard of him until now?" And, of course, the answer to that question is that his nine-to-fives and family life had kept him from being a full-time bluesman. But when his kids reached adulthood, the Mississippi native turned Rochester, NY, resident had more time to devote to music. Recorded in April 2000 (when he was 62), Dealin' is Beard's third CD for AudioQuest and underscores his ability to handle a variety of electric blues styles. Beard's appreciation of Reed and the Chicago blues is evident on gutsy, rough-and-tumble tracks like "Give Me Up and Let Me Go," "My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble," and "The Bitter Seed," a Jimmy Reed classic.
Duke Robillard’s won a reputation as one of finest guitarists in blues, but this disc also displays his command of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and jazz balladry. The latter drives his duet with country star Pam Tillis, "I’ll Never Be Free," which plays off their easy vocal interplay, Robillard’s classic picking, and his band’s swinging drive. It’s also a pleasure to hear him singing and slinging guitars with blueswoman Debbie Davies on the chugging shuffle "How Long Has It Been." But the best moments may be Robillard’s incendiary solos, like when he uncorks his Stratocaster in the middle of "Deep Inside," matching his lyrics’ cry of aching devotion with a hailstorm of quivering bent notes and brightly snapped strings in sharp, stinging phrases. Three songs later he’s playing in a twang and tremolo style like a Texas roadhouse veteran. In any context, what comes from Robillard’s nimble fingers and open mind is the sound of a master at work.
The night was November 26, 1995; the club: Richard's on Richards in Vancouver; and the lineup with Duke Robillard comprised Marty Ballou on bass, Marty Richards on drums, and "Sax" Gordon Beadle on tenor and baritone sax. They were touring with Jimmy Witherspoon and this album captures the set before they brought "Spoon" to the stage. It was taped for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Saturday Night Blues" program with host Holger Petersen. Seven of the nine songs on Stretchin' Out also appear on 1996's Duke's Blues. That one is truly a gem, but for fans who don't have it yet, one might recommend this recording instead. "Too Hot to Handle" and "That's My Life" are the only tracks that aren't on Duke's Blues. Even if you do have Duke's Blues, Stretchin' Out is still well worth the purchase because of the great extended jams and shoot-from-the-hip guitar licks you won't find anywhere else. Robillard sings a few bars on Albert Collins' "Dyin' Flu" with no mic. You have to strain to hear him over the inevitable amplifier hums and crowd support of a live recording (one fan yells "Duke it out!"), but that's what makes it so cool and compelling.
The title is bound to confuse (and possibly annoy) some blues purists. Except for a handful of straight blues numbers – including one of the most heartfelt T-Bone Walker tributes ever in "Duke's Mood" – Duke Robillard Plays Blues: The Rounder Years is mostly a rock-oriented anthology drawn from the post-Roomful of Blues but pre-Fabulous Thunderbirds stage of Robillard's career. No bonus tracks or previously unissued takes – just reissued material culled from four albums released on Rounder between 1983 and 1991. (Note that Robillard's "Rounder Years" also produced some fantastic swing music, but you won't find any of it here since it's been allocated to the sister compilation Duke Robillard Plays Jazz: The Rounder Years.) The '80s were an interesting decade for Robillard, as he took on a more stripped-down, roots rock (but still bluesy) approach with his trio, the Pleasure Kings, and then headed into that contemporary blues-rock zone often associated with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Duke Robillard pays homage to T-Bone Walker with this collection of swing, big band and blues songs. The bubbly and bouncy "Lonesome Woman Blues" has a be-bop Count Basie feeling as his supporting players are given brief solos to shine, particularly the horn section. There is far more substance and style to this approach than a rehashed run-through à la Brian Setzer. This fluidity continues, albeit a bit slower in tempo with the swinging "T-Bone Shuffle" which carries the same head-bobbing groove. Here the horns lead the way but Robillard makes his presence felt on guitar near the homestretch, and throughout the stellar "Pony Tail." The barroom blues and drum brushes on "Love Is a Gamble" takes things down to a creepy crawl, bringing to mind Dr. John or Delbert McClinton. An early favorite has to be the rousing and toe-tapping "Alimony Blues," an indication that Robillard wants to pay tribute in the right way by nailing each song beautifully.
This unassuming and delightful little album visits a time when jazz and blues were still directly entwined, drawing on the ghosts of guitarists like Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham, Bill Jennings, Tiny Grimes, Barney Kessel, and Kenny Burrell, guitarists who used the blues to enrich the jazz pieces they played on, a kind of ensemble contribution that is all too frequently missing on the contemporary blues scene. Duke Robillard, Jay Geils, and Gerry Beaudoin are all gifted guitar players, each with his own career, but as a trio working three-part harmony lines around each other, they bring a stately ensemble grace to the tracks on New Guitar Summit (the trio also appears under that name when they do live shows)…
Many improvisers would agree that having the feeling of the blues is a crucial part of jazz expression; however, the jazz and blues worlds don't interact nearly as often as they should. There are jazz musicians who will play Miles Davis' "All Blues" or Charlie Parker's "Parker's Mood" on a regular basis but wouldn't know John Lee Hooker from Little Milton; there are blues artists who are much more likely to work with a rock musician than a jazz musician. So it is a rare treat to hear a blues-oriented guitarist and a jazz-oriented guitarist co-leading a session, which is exactly what happens on More Conversations in Swing Guitar. This 2003 release is a sequel to bluesman Duke Robillard and jazzman Herb Ellis' 1999 encounter Conversations in Swing Guitar, and the CD proves that good things can happen when jazz and blues players interact. More Conversations in Swing Guitar is an album of very blues-minded instrumental jazz – it's hardly a carbon copy of Robillard's work with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but the bluesman has no problem appearing in a jazz-oriented setting.