Review: Roomful of Blues: 45 Live

Posted on: Thursday, Aug 22, 2013


Roomful of Blues – 45 Live

(Alligator Records: ALCD 4955)

Hard to believe, but the blues institution that is Roomful of Blues celebrate 45 years as a band, with this sparkling live album, recorded over three nights on home turf in Rhode Island at The Ocean Mist, Nantucket in March of this year. Band leader and long-time guitarist Chris Vachon has chosen songs from the band’s vast recorded and live repertoire and the result is a mix of blues styles that shows their enduring appeal through swing, jump and more.

Apart from Vachon the rest of the band is: Phil Pemberton (vocals), Rich Lataille (tenor and alto saxophone and clarinet), Mark Earley (baritone and tenor saxophone), Doug Woolverton (trumpet), John Turner (bass) Rusty Scott (keyboards) and Chris Rivelli (drums). Amazingly Chris Vachon is only the four guitarist in the long history, following on from Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl and Tommy K . . . other luminaries to have been in the band include Fran Christina, Preston Hubbard, Curtis Salgado, Sugar Ray Norcia, Ron Levy, Lou Ann Barton, Greg Piccolo, Doug James, Al Copley and more . . . a veritable who’s who of the blues!

The personnel may have changed over the years but the band’s swinging, jumping, horn-drenched musical melting pot never has, and here it is lapped up by the home state faithful. The highlights are many, with Hank Williams copper-bottomed classic “Jambalaya”, which was on the second album way back in 1979; and a superb take on Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby”, with Chris Vachon dipping deep with some stunning guitar; the very impressive vocalist Phil Pemberton shines on a great cover of “I Left My Baby” – a tune which hails from the heady days of the 50s, and made famous by The Count Basie band with singer Jimmy Rushing.

From the golden era of ‘proper’ r&b comes “Crawdad Hole” which Roomful originally recorded way back in 1983 on the “Blues Train” album, with Big Joe Turner taking the vocal then. Big Bill Broozy’s “Somebody’s Got To Go” is another gem, the band in the past regularly performed this with sax legend Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, though it was never recorded.

Needless to say this is a joy from start to finish . . . a magnificent journey through the career of one of the American blues scene’s greatest ever bands, who still sound as fresh and relevant as ever . . . a listening good time highly recommended.


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