Duke Robillard- Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters- Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

The Duke Robillard Band - Blues Bash
Robillard has stated that this album is meant to sound like the blues records he listened to as a kid, so that means there are '50s stylings in this set of R&B-tinged dance tunes. The guitarist and singer picked a perfect opening cut to set that mood: the shuffling Ike Turner chestnut "Do You Mean It" where guest Chris Cote handles lead vocals. "No Time" sounds like a Muddy Waters cut but it is an homage written by Robillard and featuring Mark Hummel having a field day on blues harp. The swinging "What Can I Do" will pack the dance floor, and those who just listen will surely bop in their seats to Duke's picking, rollicking piano from Bruce Bears and sassy riffs from a 3-man sax section. "Rock Alley" is an instrumental which really rocks with a '50s groove including a greasy sax solo, "Ain't Gonna Do It" boogies with Little Richard-style piano playing and the set closes out with two Robillard originals; the twangy plea for passion that is "Give Me All the Love You Got" and the subdued, 10-minute instrumental jam "Just Chillin'" where Robillard shines while the band and lots of the session's other hired guns solo in a night-fades-away mood. Robillard never disappoints and this retro-inspired set is no exception.

Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Rise Up
Guitarist Earl opens this new set without the Broadcasters, delicately picking out the notes of the traditional cut "I Shall Not Be Moved" as a guitar instrumental, a fitting beginning for an album that espouses love for one's fellow man and includes commentary on today's social ills. The Broadcasters join Earl from the second cut on, with Diane Blue handling vocals on songs about love, like Earl's self-penned and spiritual "Higher Love," where Hammond B3 by Dave Limina counters Earl's guitar. A couple of other songs more typically about love relationships are included too: Fenton Robinson's "You Don't Know What Love Is" and a nearly 9-minute take on Magic Sam's "All Your Love" where Earl scalds the fretboard between vocal turns from Blue. It is so difficult to put feelings about this year's spate of police slayings of Black men and women into words, but pain is palpable in the instrumental "Blues for George Floyd; lyrics of love and loss populate the slow and mournful "Black Lives Matter." A take on Bob Dylan's "Lord Protect My Child" keeps with the theme but a few cuts, like Eddie Taylor's "Big Town Playboy" focus on more common blues subject, here the dissing of a ne'er-do-well. Great guitar, great thoughts and lots of fun to be had with this generous 15-song set.

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones featuring Little Charlie - Too far From the Bar
At first look the sentiment expressed in the title of "Don't Give No More Than You Can Take" might seem a little sideways, but the opening cut on Too far From the Bar is about being wary of karma. A mid-tempo cut that rollicks along with Sugar Ray Norcia's harp playing up front, the cut is buoyed by a loping beat and barroom piano from Anthony Geraci. With a voice that recalls many of the old time blues greats, Norcia's choice to cover Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bluebird Blues" is a good one, so is his interpretation of Otis Spann's slow and smoking "What Will Become of Me." But most of this set is self-penned, including the super-swinging title cut, the harmonica-honking instrumental "Reel Burner" and "Numb and Dumb" where a lusty infatuation causes the character that Norcia portrays want to get, well, numb and dumb. Norcia's 4-piece backing band is tight throughout and Duke Robillard guests on guitar on four cuts.

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