Roomful Of Blues’ “45 Live” Is Elegant
BY BARRY KERZNER – AUGUST 29, 2013POSTED IN: ALBUM REVIEWS, CHICAGO BLUES, REVIEWS, SOUL BLUES, SWING BLUES
Roomful Of Blues is celebrating 45 years of performing blues. As a band, they have a pedigree most bands could only dream of. Their roster of members and former members reads like a who’s who of top tier musicians, including Lou Ann Barton, Curtis Salgado, Al Copley, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, and Travis Colby. Founded in 1967 by Duke Robillard and Al Copley, they played hardcore Chicago blues, and later settled into articulating the nuances of Jump blues and Swing, even performing with Count Basie, the master of these blues forms. They are an institution; a standard if you will. The great thing about this band is that they never rest on their laurels, they are always learning and growing, and they do not stagnate. Their performances never grow stale, and they deliver their “best show” every time they take the stage.
45 Live is a culmination of sorts for the band. As this is a live band in the truest sense of the word, 45 Live is a real treat. Issued on the Alligator Records label, it is produced and mixed by Chris Vachon. Recorded live over the course of several nights at the Ocean Mist in Matunuck, RI, the album showcases the band at their very best. These enthusiastic performances are full of life, and their obvious love of the blues. For those who don’t know, the current lineup is Phil Pemberton – vocals, Chris Vachon – guitars, and Rich Lataille – tenor/alto sax, clarinet. Joining the fray are Mark Earley – baritone and tenor sax, Doug Wollverton – trumpet, John Turner – bass, Rusty Scott – keyboards, and Chris Rivelli on drums.
This entire album is a great listen. The recording and mix is so well executed, the presentation of the performances here is elegant, and the sound is rich and clear, with an almost 3D depth! “It All Went Down The Drain” is full of texture and really swings in a joyful way. The piano and guitar fills weaving in and out of the melody are just right, and the vocal is the cherry on top. “Easy Baby” is moody, slow and bluesy, with a great vocal, sweet guitar solo, and the sound is full of depth. Beautiful cut. “That’s Right” is a Jump blues, straight out of the Louis Jordan playbook. It jumps, it swings, and will have you on your feet, moving to that crazy beat. The band really shines here! “You Don’t Know” is a fine shuffle, delivered with spirit and finesse. The piano, guitar, and horn work is marvelous! “Somebody’s Got To Go” harkens back to a smokey NOLA piano bar with its crying horn work, beautiful guitar chording, and of course, fine piano work.
If you are a Roomful Of Blues fan, this album is a must for your collection. For the rest of you blues lovers, this is a must for your record shelf too. This album is brilliant, and the playing here is scintillating. Pick this album up yesterday.
45 Live (Roomful of Blues)
IT must have been a rip-snorter of a party over the three days it took Roomful of Blues to record its 45th-anniversary live album at Ocean Mist in Rhode Island.
Its sizzling amalgam of jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll, jump and swing would have had the venue hopping as the band covered a career that has brought five Grammy nominations and an armful of blues awards.
Since its inception in 1967, more than 50 musicians have passed through the ensemble lauded by the legendary Count Basie as "the hottest blues band I've ever heard" -- but the present line-up has done them proud with this inspired, foot-tapping anthology. Roomful of Blues remains true to the mission to keep alive the music of the 1940s and 50s with a tight-as-a-drum, joyful sound that combines classy guitar with silky sax appeal and soaring horns.
Whether it's the fat sax of rock or the smooth sound of swing, this album superbly captures the live energy and appeal of this eight-member ensemble headed by guitarist Chris Vachon. The album sets the mood immediately with the jumping Just Keep on Rockin' and includes some of the band's best-known originals, including the Grammy-nominated That's Right! and Turn it On, Turn it Up.
Highlights include a soulful, brass-backed version of Sam Maghett's Easy Baby, with some beautifully phrased guitar from Vachon. Also noteworthy is the instrumental tribute Straight Jacquet, penned by alto and tenor sax player Rich Lataille, who has been with the band since 1970.
But there are no frontmen in this performance; this is a group of masters seamlessly swapping off lead breaks to keep alive the passionate vibe of an exhilarating era.
Cascade Blues Association
Roomful Of Blues
Roomful of Blues, in honor of their 45th year as a band, celebrate by releasing 45 Live. Recorded over a three night engagement this past March at The Ocean Mist in Mantunuck, Rhode Island. Forty-five years; this is a band that just never seems to slip on by. And that is certainly great news for blues fans because this group continues to release amazing, jumping music that can set the mood for any dance party.
Vocalist Phil Pemberton holds down the lead with the band, easily gliding through song selections from throughout their lengthy tenure as a band. There may have been numerous musicians that have gone on to stellar heights upon leaving Roomful of Blues, but they somehow manage to come right back with other artists that fill the void and push the bar even higher yet. Guitarist Chris Vachon delivers smoking hot guitar in these performances, captured exceptionally on the cover of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby.” And without saying, the horns are over the top great. But they have always been the heart and soul of Roomful of Blues to begin with, as Mark Earley on sax, Doug Wolverton on trumpet and original member Rick Lataille on sax and clarinet blow strong and true.
The band touches all blues oriented stylings, such as the deep blues of Chicago with the aforementioned “Easy Baby,” Louisiana with “Jambalaya” and “Crawdad Hole,” jazz with their tribute to Illinois Jacquet on “Straight Jacquet,” or that true Kansas City big band feel with Pemberton playing the blues shouter fronting in the style of Big Joe Turner, Walter Brown or Jimmy Rushing. Lots of Roomful of Blues favorites offered here as well, touching on rarely played numbers like “Dressed Up To Get Messed Up” to more recent cuts like “Turn It On, Turn It Up.”
Forty-five years; that must make them like The Rolling Stones of the blues world. But though they may have gone through about 50 band members throughout the years, Roomful of Blues have been quite consistent in presenting music in their same format, performing constantly, and they’re aging much better in looks than The Stones, too. Here’s hoping that this band keeps pushing that big blues band sound for several more decades. Great live retrospective of a super band.
Chicago Blues Guide
by Mark Thompson It is rare for any band to stick around for more than four decades – and it’s an even greater accomplishment when that band continues to turn out compelling music. While the current version of Roomful of Blues may only have one member from the formative years – tenor and alto saxophonist Rich Lataille – the eight-member little big band is still rocking and swinging the blues with a contagious enthusiasm that will send you running for your dancing shoes!
To celebrate their 45th anniversary, the band recorded three nights at The Ocean Mist club in Matunuck, RI in March of this year. In their home state in front of long-time fans, Roomful tears through tunes that represent highlights from their various recordings, with one song recorded for the first time. Guitarist Chris Vachon remains the band leader and producer with John Turner on bass, Chris Rivelli on drums and Rusty Scott on keyboards. In addition to Lataille, the superb horn section consists of Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on baritone & tenor sax. Phil Pemberton has been the lead vocalist for several years. His powerful voice can shake the rafters, riding the full weight of the band with ease.
They hit it right from the start, making a statement with a swaggering take of “Just Keep on Rockin’” that they live up to on all fourteen tracks. Pemberton’s soulful tone is a perfect fit for the hard-driving “It All Went Down the Drain” and Vachon delivers a fine tremolo-laden solo on the tune cut in 1988 for their Earl King project. An electrifying run-through of “That’s Right” features a stirring tenor solo from Earley before the band dusts off another title track from one of their recordings, “Dressed Up to Get Messed Up”. You’d never know that the song had been on the shelf for more than twenty years after hearing the booming sax solo over the band’s sultry, finger-snapping strut. There’s a harder edge on a third title track, “Turn It On, Turn It Up”, with Scott riding the organ behind the blasts from the horn section.
Pemberton is at his best on a slow-burning rendition of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby”, his chilling lament showcasing his impressive vocal range. Vachon gets down and dirty on a solo that steadily builds in intensity until he finishes it off with a dramatic flurry of cutting licks. Another highlight occurs on “I Left My Baby”, originally done by the Count Basie Band with Jimmy Rushing on the vocal. This time Pemberton’s soulful singing rides the slow-drag rhythm with Early and Scott adding memorable solos.
Lataille’s “Straight Jacquet” is an instrumental tribute to the legendary jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, giving the three horn players plenty of room to stretch out. Scott’s rollicking piano takes the lead on “Crawdad Hole”, a track they recorded with Big Joe Turner. “Somebody’s Got to Go” makes its first appearance on a Roomful recording -- even though they played the song on a regular basis when they were backing Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson -- sparked by Pemberton’s robust vocal, a gripping solo from Lataille on alto and some closing high note blasts from Woolverton’s trumpet. While the band lays down a sprightly take of “Jambalaya” with Lataille on clarinet, this well-worn classic seems a bit out of place.
To close the set, the band jumps the blues on “Flip Flap Jack”, giving the muscular horn section one more opportunity to demonstrate their collective talents. It provides a rousing climax to an outstanding recording which proves that, even after 45 years, Roomful of Blues remains a vital link to musical styles that otherwise are in danger of disappearing from the modern blues scene. They swing the blues like nobody else. Pick up a copy of this highly recommended disc and join in on the celebration. Let the dancing begin!
45 Live': Roomful of Blues solidify legacy with anniversary disc
Rhode Island’s Roomful of Blues has witnessed the coming and going of enough talent in its 45-year history — as an astonishingly diverse, eminently danceable all-purpose purveyor of blues, swing, R&B and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll — to scare most bands into submission. But the simple fact that this seemingly unstoppable force of nature never lost sight of its calling and purpose to carry on the cultural traditions of a genre rooted in the sweaty, good-time music of yesteryear is precisely what cements the group's legacy today. "We're not going to be a hair band or rock band anytime soon," bandleader and guitarist Chris Vachon said by phone last week from his home in New England. "The concept hasn't changed that much. We cover a lot of different stylings in the genre. We'll do like Kansas City, New Orleans, you know, Chicago. That's the idea, in the big band sorta sound. That's the approach and how the band was started, so we're trying to keep that." Some notable Roomful alumni include saxophonist Greg Piccolo, vocalist Curtis Salgado, singer/guitarist/harmonica ace Sugar Ray Norcia and guitarist Ronnie Earl, who replaced hotshot axeman and founder Duke Robillard after he left in the early 1980s. All of them, and several more players, went on to successful solo careers after years of touring with the band. The current lineup consists of Vachon, who joined the fold more than two decades ago, singer Phil Pemberton, keyboardist Rusty Scott, bassist John Turner, drummer Chris Rivelli, baritone saxophonist Mark Earley, trumpet player Doug Woolverton and saxophonist Rich Lataille, who's the longest serving member, having been in the group since 1970. For all those changes, though, their sound remains remarkably consistent, recapturing that transitional period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when American pop music was changing from swing to rock, which they'll be in town to showcase during a performance at The Stoney Badger Friday. The effortless, free-flowing precision of their live shows is at the heart of what's made them a crowd favorite for some time. To celebrate Roomful's 45th anniversary, the band recorded a three-night stint at the Ocean Mist club in Matunuck, RI, in March, tearing through a vast catalog of tunes that represent highlights from their various albums over the years. Released in July, the "45 Live" CD features 14 tracks specifically chosen by the ensemble's resident guitar virtuoso to encapsulate a blues institution that many would describe as an instrumental powerhouse. "It just made sense for us to do something that was sort of an overview," Vachon said. "We hadn't done a live record in quite a long time. A lot of times, that's hard to sell to a label because they'd rather have a studio record. But I thought it was a good idea." Included in the set are some of the group's best known originals, like the classic "Dressed Up to Get Messed Up," the harder edged "Turn It On, Turn It Up" and the electrifying "That’s Right," as well as songs previously recorded or performed with blues giants Joe Turner ("Crawdad Hole"), Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson ("Somebody's Got to Go") and New Orleans soul star Earl King ("It All Went Down the Drain"). Pemberton's delivery resonates well on the slow-burning rendition of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby.“ His cool lament demonstrates just how massive the singer's vocal range truly is, while Vachon also flaunts a bit of his complex mastery on the track, laying down an intricate solo that steadily builds until he finishes it off with a dramatic squall of piercing fretwork. With its brassy horn section and rolling boogie rhythms, Roomful evokes the bravado and grit of classic R&B that's inspired a bevy of musicians to great effect, illustrating just how influential they've been in shaping conventional notions of what's possible in the wide world of blues. Of course, that doesn't mean Vachon and company feel like they've accomplished everything yet. "I think the only state we haven't played in is Hawaii, believe it or not," Vachon said. "We've been to like 22 countries, you know what I mean? But I'm still waiting for that gig in Hawaii. I don't know. It's just never happened."
Music Review: Roomful of Blues - '45 Live'
By Wesley Britton, BLOGCRITICS.ORG
For 45 years, Roomful of Blues has kept one consistent mission alive: to carry on the swing, big band, and jazz blues traditions of the '40s and '50s. Among their many admirers, it should be no surprise band leader Count Basie called them "the hottest blues band I've ever heard." That's largely because Roomful of Blues picked up the torch Basie and his fellow horn-heavy ensembles passed on when their own careers slowly faded into the sunset.
It all began in the late '60s when guitarist Duke Robillard and keyboardist Al Copley looked to incorporate swing, jump, and boogie woogie music in their Rhode Island-based band. They naturally began to include horns in 1970. One of those early players was saxophonist Rich Lataille, who's the only member from the early days still in the band. Over the years, in fact, there have been approximately 50 players including the likes of guitarist Ronnie Earl, vocalist Lou Ann Barton, vocalist/harpist Curtis Salgado, saxist/vocalist Greg Piccolo, and harpist/vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia.
Since 1990, guitarist/producer Chris Vachon has led the band which, along with Lataille, now features vocalist Phil Pemberton, longtime tenor and baritone saxophonist Mark Earley, trumpeter Doug Woolverton, bassist John Turner, drummer Chris Rivelli, and keyboardist Rusty Scott. As you might expect, this is one smooth, slick, and precise showband capable of tight arrangements and open solos spotlighting the full line-up. This isn't a back-up band for any given front man-Roomful of Blues is a stage full of all-stars.
Specifically designed to celebrate their 45th anniversary, Vachon arranged for a three-day party in March 2013 at The Ocean Mist in Matunuck, Rhode Island where they recorded the songs for 45 Live. Vachon chose 14 numbers representing the band's entire career, including songs previously recorded or performed in the '80s with Joe Turner ("Crawdad Hole"), Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson ("Somebody's Got To Go"), and Earl King ("It All Went Down The Drain"). Original tunes include 2003's "That's Right," 1995's "Turn It On, Turn It Up," and, for the first time in 20 years, a live version of "Dressed Up To Get Messed Up."
But you really don't need to know the history of Roomful of Blues to join in the fun. If knowing they have earned five Grammy Award nominations, seven Blues Music Awards, and were twice selected by the DownBeat International Critics Poll as Best Blues band gives them credibility for you, so be it. But really, all you need do is listen to the opening bars of "Just Keep On Rockin'," and you will know what to expect. Don't anticipate the shuffles and guitar pyrotechnics of a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Johnny Winter. Don't look for the down and dirty grooves of players in the Chess/Detroit/Memphis traditions. Think Dixieland, New Orleans, Cab Calloway, Otis Rush, and certainly Count Basie. The roots of Roomful of Blues go back 70, 80 years, not a mere 45. With luck, they'll keep us jumpin' for decades to come. Happy anniversary, gents!
Get Ready to Rock!
Review by Pete Feenstra
If Roomful of Blues are the kind of band who are labelled as Heritage Music, then their historical take on American music is one dominated by horn led blues and swing. They consistently have one eye on the dance floor and the other on checking each other out, for those inspired moments when they can solo, improvise and let fly.
And that is exactly what they do on the celebratory ‘45 Live’, a live album culled from a three night stand at their local blues joint The Ocean Mist in Rhode Island.
Roomful’s original big band style grew out of founder members Duke Robillard and Al Copley’s vision of a horn led blues band. The idea was taken on by sax player Rich Lataille’s love of 30’s and 40’s swing bands, while the band’s later leader and sax player Greg Piccolo delivered self penned songs such as ‘Dressed Up To Get Messed Up’ (recorded live here for the first time), to give the band credibility in the blues market.
Laitaille actually joined in 1970 and is still at the heart of the horn led engine room, while by guitarist Chris Vachon joined 20 years later and still steers the ship to this day.
As Chris recently stated: ‘There’s been 50 people in the band, so it really has a life of its own’. And if there’s the slightest whiff of a tribute to the band’s enduring brand, it’s quickly subsumed by all those consistent musical elements of swing, blues and boogie that make Roomful so endearing.
They effortlessly shift form hi-energy, participatory dance music – referencing Kansas City and Jump Blues etc – to exploring low down in the alley blues and sultry New Orleans styles that make the best possible use of the horns.
The other notable thing about this live cut is the performance of vocalist Phil Pemberton, a tenor with a strong range who makes the material his own. He adds gritty phrasing on the funky ‘It All Went Down The Drain’ and leans into Magic Sam’s Chicago style ‘Easy Baby’.
He also brings real presence to bear on the sonorous and beautifully paced, big band blues ‘I Left My Baby’, as keyboard player Rusty Scott tucks in between the contrasting horn solos with a mix of piano fills and overly deliberate expressive notes, to lever in the full power of the horn section.
On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Somebody’s Got To Go’, Phil attacks the lines with gusto, as the horn section picks out the substance of the song. It’s often said that a slow blues is a true barometer of a band’s ability to tackle the genre and Roomful are just as good getting low down and bluesy as they are on the swing material.
But ultimately it is with jump blues and swing material that the band most effectively connects with their crowd. The horn section is imperious on the opening Chris Vachon penned ‘Just Keep On Rockin’ and on the Mark Earley dominated jump blues of ‘That’s Right!’. The band explores its jazzier side on Rich Lataille’s ‘Straight Jacquet’, which is presumably a homage to the tenor player Illinois Jacquet. It is notable for its delicate intricate interplay, stellar solos and the same sort of bounce as Illinois’s ‘Flying Home’.
Guitarist Chris Vachon is a surprisingly restrained throughout, adding a tasteful in and out, deep toned solo on ‘It All Went Down The Drain’ and a sinuous break on ‘Easy Baby’, before he shifts to a bigger tone on his own song, the surprisingly rocked out ‘Turn It On, Turn It Up’ . He also swaps licks with the dynamic horn section on the other side of a cool organ break on the self penned fat toned, stop-time shuffle ‘Blue Blue World’.
Ultimately ‘45 Live’ flows like a live gig should, with the up tempo ‘That’s Right!’ for example, counterweighted by the undulating swing of ‘Crawdad Hole’. Similarly, the powerful ‘Blue Blue World’ is juxtaposed by the ballad ‘Somebody’s Got To Go’. And while the recording relegates the crowd mainly to the background, this is sharply produced live album that captures the musical breadth of the band and the intensity of their solos.
45 years is a long stretch that is unlikely to be beaten, and this album is as much a celebration of the band’s enduring appeal as to the genre that they play so well. Hell, any self respecting blues band would be proud to sound as fired up and passionate as Roomful do here.
Roomful’s Chris Vachon discusses Hook, Line, And Sinker; recent tour
Giving interviews has been part of Chris Vachon’s job for many years now. Vachon has been the band leader for Roomful Of Blues since he joined the now 40 year old institution in 1996. The guitarist is just as comfortable talking to the press as he is paying out a smoking’ lead guitar phrase on stage.
Roomful got back from the road the day before he spoke. “We had a good time. It was five gigs out in the mid-west,” Vachon said. “We started in Nebraska, and we went to Minnesota and South Dakota, and we finished up in Minnesota, and we came home. It was all good crowds.”
When asked how the Mid-West music scene differed from the East Coast, Vachon gave a frank answer. “I hate to say this, but there was a lot more people that showed up,” he said, chuckling. “We haven’t really been out there in while. We got sell out crowds so we did pretty good. It’s pretty hit or miss around here. You don’t ever know.”
Roomful had to do a lot of driving out in the heartland. Sound man Mike LeBeau, Vachon, Mark Earley(sax), Doug Woolverton(trumpet), and Ephraim Lowell(drums) took turns steering the MCI tour bus. The band has been happy about the numerous positive reviews for their most recent CD release Hook, Like, And Sinker.
“I haven’t seen anything negative yet,” the guitar man said. “It’s been pretty good, all pretty positive, so we’re all real happy about it. People are picking it up here and there. It’s selling pretty decent.”
Although Roomful didn’t record any original material for Hook, Line, And Sinker, they selected their covers very carefully, and they put their own personal stamp on each track. They also got to show off their new multi-octave crooner Philip Pemberton who had been in Boston and Providence music circle for years.
“We got Phil, and really didn’t have a lot of time to write stuff, and I wanted to get him on a record,” Vachon said. “I figured the best thing to do would be a tribute thing to a lot of the great writers and the great artists that we admire. I had a party at my house with the guys. I said, ‘Everybody bring in ten songs.’ So, we had 80songs. We sat through it all. We listened to it all. Over the next couple of weeks we whittled it down back and fourth through e-mail, and we finally settled on 12 of them. We rehearsed a couple times and we went into the studio and cut it live.”
The 12 tracks Roomful settled on stood out for their momentum. “We were trying to pick stuff that kind of flowed, and stuff that we thought were great songs that were written well,” Vachon said. “I personally wanted to get a couple of Gatemouth’s. I always loved him and he passed away not so long ago. I was thinking about him. I was thinking about people we really like a lot that we hadn’t recorded much of yet.”
Word of mouth has been positive about Hook, Line, And Sinker. Like on previous Roomful releases, the band expanded their sound into different styles but sill managed to hold onto their enthusiastic fan base. “Usually, I’ll ask everybody to bring in what they’ve written and we’ll fill it around that. This time we went for the covers. I think it’s just our background and the stuff we like. It stays sort of consistent. We do like to mix things up. We don’t want to do a whole album’s worth of swing. We like to mix it up so it moves along.”
New member Philip Pemberton has a multi-octave singing voice and he is well steeped in roots music. “He obviously has a great voice. He has a big range,” Vachon said. “That’s the most important thing with us because he can cover anything that we do. We don’t have to change keys for him or anything. He’s got that much of a range so that he’s able to cover just about anything we want to do, all the older stuff that we used to do and in all the original keys and stuff. He’s a real strong singer, and we’re real happy and lucky to have him.”
When asked if a continuously changing line-up helps, hurts, or doesn’t impact the band, Vachon answered philosophically. “It happens,” he said. “This many years guys don’t want to stay forever. They have other things they want to do or they don’t want to be on the road any more. We’ve been really lucky. We know a lot of guys to call on if we lose somebody. We’ve never really done any kind of auditions or any of that stuff. Between all of us, we’ll know somebody to try. Those people have the same background that we have, and so it doesn’t change all that much.”
When ask how he would described or define Roomful’s distinct sound, he pointed to the horns. “We’re probably unique in that we carry three horns and most people don’t any more. They’ll record and put horns on it but they won’t travel with it. I think we’re one of the few bands that are still doing that. That obviously gives us a lot more variety in the stuff that we can pick. We can cover Kansas City style, the Chicago style, Jump and Swing, New Orleans. The territory type of music, we’re able to do that kind of stuff. I think that’s what makes us a little different than most of the bands.”
Roomful doesn’t play a lot of what Vachon calls “the weepy blues stuff” but rather focuses on the kind of upbeat blues that people can dance to. This positive blues might account for Roomful’s immense popularity. “I think that people come to see us they usually come to dance,” the guitarist said. “We play in place where people sit down too, but they always end up saying, ‘Gee, I wish we could dance.’ I think people just want to participate in it.”
Roomful’s horn section, no matter who is in it, is rooted in the blues that grew out of the swing of the 1930s and 1940s. “(Saxophonist) Rich (Lataille) has been in the band for 43 years now. He’s been there long enough now where everybody that we get, he knows how he wants it to sound. The guys will get their parts together, and Rich is a big part of that. He’ll work on the parts.”
Vachon has produced the last six Roomful CDs and he doesn’t find it a chore to get all those musicians on the same page. “I don’t really have to do much at all,” he said. “As long as we rehearse a couple times and make sure everybody knows what they’re doing. We don’t really have a problem that way. We get in there, and we’re excited to do it. I think the energy comes out that way. We have guys that know what they’re doing. So, it’s not a big task for me.”
Hook, Line, And Sinker was recorded in less than two days, and Vachon mixed it in his home studio. “We cut it live,” Vachon continued. “We don’t go in and change everything or overdub stuff. Everything pretty much goes down live. We might fix something here or there if we made a mistake. We usually cut the song two times and pick the best one.”
Vachon said people have commented that he plays his guitar more on the new CD, but he didn’t notice that himself. “I’m used to playing to with a lot of guys and a lot of soloists. I’m not the kind of guy that wants to take over the show. I put what I think fits in there with everybody else. If anything, I try to not feature myself so much. This is the sixth or seventh record I’ve produced with the band so I’m used to the whole thing.”
Vachon said Roomful is trying to line up some festival appearances for this summer. “We’re just keep working,” he said. “That’s what we do. We’ve done it for so long now that I don’t want it to stop. We won’t go away.”
ROOMFUL OF BLUES
By Nate Dow
ROOMFUL OF BLUES “Hook, Line & Sinker”
The 44-year-old Rhode Island r&b institution, buoyed by new members Philip Pemberton on vocals and Doug Woolverton on trumpet, dazzles with renewed energy in what rates as the band’s best album since 1994’s “Dance All Night.” But make no mistake: This is still Chris Vachon’s baby, and his guitar and arrangements revitalize classic covers of tunes by Gatemouth Brown, Dave Bartholomew, Floyd Dixon and Little Richard. Going into the studio just two months after Pemberton’s arrival, the band eschewed originals for the first time in eight years, experimenting with songs that capitalize on his range and soul. It was a gamble, but it has paid off with the kind of reinvention that has helped Roomful endure.
Roomful of Blues,Hook, Line & Sinker
* * * CATCH THIS JUMPIN' RELEASE
New England's favorite party animals, now celebrating their 43rd year, give new vocalist Phil Pemberton ample space to showcase his flexible, multi-octave tenor on this collection of swingin' jump blues and R&B covers from the likes of Little Richard, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Dave Bartholomew, Amos Milburn and Floyd Dixon. The eight-piece group's studio albums, now nearing 20, are usually high-voltage yet classy affairs that revive the past but aren't enslaved to it, and it's no different this time thanks to the tough, focused approaches of veteran guitarist Chris Vachon and horn-section leader Rich Lataille, particularly on Gates Walks To Board and Just a Little Love.— Jerry Shriver
Roomful of Blues - Hook, Line & Sinker
Long before rock and roll was defined by lead, rhythm, bass guitars and drums or the black sounding southern white boy with the funny first name, it was defined by swinging horns and jump rhythms. Rock and roll before Buddy Holly and Elvis was a direct offshoot of the World War II era big band sound, with hard driving groups like Bill Haley and the Comets and blues shouting vocalists like Big Joe Turner. That music was meant to get people moving on dance floors.
Perhaps no group has kept the spirit of early rock and roll alive better than Roomful of Blues former in 1967 by guitarist Duke Robillard and pianist Al Copley. By 1971 the famous horns were added. The founding members are long gone, but Roomful of Blues lives on. On Hook, Line & Sinker, Roomful of Blues proves that they are stronger than ever in 2011. And that is saying something about a band that as long ago as 1974 the immortal Count Basie called "the hottest blues band I ever heard."
The heat still burns red hot on Hook, Line & Sinker. The album consists of 12 covers of songs made famous by Big Maybelle, Floyd Dixon, Gatemouth Brown and Amos Milburn, as well as songs written by Dave Bartholomew and Lieber Stoller. And of course the album title comes from a song made famous by Big Joe Turner. The result is an album that is pure fun to listen to and even jump to if you are so inclined. From the first track, "That's A Pretty Good Love" once recorded by Big Maybelle, the signature sound of Roomful of Blues comes blasting through, from the fat sounds of the wailing horns to the serpentine rhythms and slashing guitar added to the mix. It is a sound right out of a time of zoot suits and packed ballrooms on a Saturday night.
One of the amazing things about Roomful of Blues over the decades is that they have kept their sound and identity despite the more than 50 musicians who are now alumni of the band. Along with heavyweights like Robillard, Roomful has included musicians like Ronnie Earl, Lou Ann Barton, Sugar Ray Norcia and Curtis Salgado. Rick Lataille on tenor and alto sax is the closest thing to an original member left but even he joined when the group was already three years old. For the past two decades, Chris Vachon has been handling the guitar and vocalist Phil Pemberton is one of the newest members.
On Hook, Line & Sinker, listen to the incredible guitar work by Vachon on the fast driving, hard-swinging Gatemouth song, "Gate Walks to Board" Or listen to the amazing vocal performance by Pemberton on the Don and Dewy song, "Kill Me" and you will be reminded of the work done by early James Brown and the Famous Flames. And while it is not fair to compare anybody with the sheer power of Big Joe Turner, Roomful of Blues certainly captures the raucous fun of mid-1950's rock and roll on "Hook, Line and Sinker."
Roomful of Blues is eight guys who have the power of a full Big Band orchestra. They mix jump and jive with R&B, blues and rock and roll. They are one of America's musical treasures. We have been lucky to have them so long and still have them today. Hook, Line & Sinker is a gem not to be missed.
By Bill Copeland on January 27, 2011
Roomful Of Blues has turned out yet another fine album of jumping, swinging blues that has worked well for them over the years. “Hook, Line, & Sinker” gathers up Roomful interpretations of 12 cover songs with their new singer Philip Pemberton belting aggressively and emoting soulfully through out.
Pemberton fits right in with this 40 year old institution as his smooth timbre is rooted deep in the kind of oomph needed to front a swinging blues horn band. Underneath Pemberton, Roomful has their usual mix of horns and keyboards to give everything that special swing.
Opening track “That’s A Pretty Good Love,” spearheaded by guitarist Chris Vachon and his flinty yet fluid phrases, gets a good vocal workout from Pemberton during its chorus. A large framed man, Pemberton also has a large musical presence, running the show like a chairman of the board of some huge international conglomerate.
The Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown classic “She Walks Right In” gets a quick, swinging groove that makes you want to do the jitterbug. Horns blare and mix it up like a kalediscope, all the colors falling into perfect configurations of pleasantness.
Title track “Hook, Line, & Sinker,” a send up of all those oldies infatuation songs, displays how Roomful perfectly balances the powerhouse forces in their band. Tenor and bari sax blend into an almost wall of sound feel. Pemberton, meanwhile, uses his lung power to blast out his ebullient enthusiasm and yet manages to stay out of the way of those horns. The horn section is made up of A-list blowers Rich Lataille(tenor and alto sax), Mark Early(tenor and bari sax), and Doug Woolverton(trumpet).
“Kill Me” has to be sung really well or the two word song title would sound really weird without the perfect inflection. Pemberton gets a A+ for that. Vachon plays incisive and scintillating guitar leads against horns and organ fills to give this song the trademark Roomful quality of busy blues and fulsome R&B. “Gatemouth” Brown’s instrumental “Gate Walks To Board” gets a first class treatment here. It moves with the speed of swing jazz from the Glen Miller period. The guitar, while recorded on modern equipment, has all the flash and tempo of an earlier decade. The horns and piano dance around the piano in such speedy, fluid motion that I want to see what they can do with this piece live. It would definitely burn calories for those folks on TV ‘sweatin’ to the oldies.’
Pemberton gets to have some fun on “Juice, Juice, Juice.” His alternate timbre makes him sound almost like a completely different singer, bringing it lower and singing the notes more compactly. It is these touches that work for Pemberton who prefers to eschew vocal gymnastics in favor of serving the song and filling it with feeling. This is another reason why he fits Roomful like a glove. As good as they all are, they don’t ever go overboard in their solos and bridges, and instead focus on solid musicianship with professional attitudes and mature tastefulness.
“Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’” swings right in with fantastic horn blasts before Travis Colby livens it up even more with his elegant piano tinkling. Switching up is a Roomful ingredient and it is a kick to hear those horns suddenly thicken and swell, tickling and tugging the ear with phrases thick and fluid. “Win With Me Baby” gives Vashon a chance to strut his stuff with some nifty guitar licks that range from lower end rhythm to lighter, higher, more brittle notes. With band slowed down, Pemberton gets to showcase his emotive, husky vocal in the center of grinding guitar, swirling horns, and the steady, involving groove from bassist John Turner and drummer Ephraim Lowell.
The Lieber and Stoller number “It” has some rock and roll tumble that smacks of the late 1950s. Lowell’s carefully managed beat and stick work gives this rendition that quality of hit factor and Turner’s low end upright bounce makes it danceable. The band slams the pedal to the floor on “Come On Home” which is totally powered by Pemberton’s throaty shout-singing over Lowell’s rolling beat.
Pemberton switches gears on R&B classic “Time Brings About A Change.” Its mellow groove-restrained tempo gives him space and time to emote all over this broken-hearted feeling, a soulful thing that percolates in Colby’s B3 Hammond organ, well-paced horn lines, and a very articulate, sorrowful piano.
Roomful close out with “Just A Little Love” that brings Pemberton down into that lower register that makes it, once again, sound almost like another singer took over. As the song pleads for “just a little love before I go,” it leaves no doubt that Roomful is confident we will all be back for more when they release the next CD they have in the works.
American Blues Scene
The party starts as soon as you look at the cover of the new CD fromRoomful Of Blues. Come to think of it, I think I voted for this cover design on the Alligator Records Facebook page a few months ago. Hook, Line & Sinker is an assortment of twelve songs from the likes of Little Richard, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Floyd Dixon and others. Pulling double duty by producing and playing some very solid guitar is long-time member Chris Vachon. This album gives him plenty of room to show off his skills and he takes full advantage of it. Chris really sets the fretboard on fire with his splendid interpretation of Gate Walks To Board from Gatemouth Brown.This release also showcases the wide vocal range of Phil Pemberton, who blasts away with one of the best set of pipes in the business! The whole band really does a fantastic job of breathing life into some older tunes, picking them up, dusting them off and putting a shine on them!
Roomful has been at this game for over 40 years, shuffling the lineup and coming up with a winning combination! I’m pretty sure their solid fan base is going to love this.
Personally, I didn’t find a dull groove on this entire collection, even the slower downbeat stuff like Win With Me, Baby has such an deep, infectious, bass driven groove, that it just pulls you right in.
Also, if you love the brass you will not be disappointed. The horn section is top notch from front to back, from side to side and all points in between! Geez, you can hardly tell Rich Lataille has been in this band for 40 plus years! Let me see here, I was in second grade when he joined Roomful…yep, he could do this blindfolded! This CD just doesn’t stop delivering and we haven’t talked about the piano yet! The energetic piano riffs throughout this whole edition are just brilliant and I found myself thoroughly entertained. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that this was a blast to record.
If you are in the market for something fun to listen to, something that will get you moving, then this CD is for you.
Hook, Line and Sinker is a swinging good time and highly recommended!
Roomful of Blues, “Hook, Line & Sinker,” (Alligator). 3 stars.
Even after more than 40 years, Roomful of Blues are still shaking up a storm, setting juke joints jumping from coast to coast and staying true to their horn-drenched brand of R&B.
Whether they’re ripping up the room in the infectious title track to “Hook, Line & Sinker,” showing off their swagger in “Juice, Juice, Juice,” or delving into late night, slow blues in “Time Brings About a Change,” the band is right on the money from start to finish.
They’ve had more than 50 members through the years, but for the past two decades have been powered by guitarist Chris Vachon. His scorching work on Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s instrumental “Gate Walks to Board” is just one of many reasons fans should find this set plenty satisfying.
Tracks to download: “Hook, Line & Sinker,” “Time Brings About a Change.”
by j. poet
Roomful of Blues have been playing their blistering take on the jump blues for over 35 years and through numerous personnel changes. Only saxman Rich Lataille is left from the band's best-known lineup, and even he joined after Roomful of Blues had been playing beer joints for three years, but their sound still remains as rough and tough as ever and that's a good thing indeed. On Hook, Line & Sinker they're doing what they've always done, and as the provocative album cover suggests, they remain capable of delivering a platter full of sly, sexy stompers. There aren't any originals this time around; instead they trot out a bunch of juke joint classics and infuse them with their own special brand of soulful grit. Chris Vachon's slinky guitar pulls you into the opener, "That's a Pretty Good Love," a tune made popular by Big Maybelle. Vachon's long, serpentine solo complements the song's smoldering message. Vocalist Phil Pemberton shines on "Kill Me," with a soulful, growling vocal worthy of the Don & Dewey original, while he shows off his tender side on Floyd Dixon's "Time Brings About a Change," which features an intricate late-night piano solo by Travis Colby. But like all good Roomful albums, it's the uptempo numbers that really make you want to hit the replay button. Vachon lets loose on the smokin' instrumental "Gate Walks to Board," then steps aside to let Lataille, Mark Earley, and trumpeter Doug Woolverton trade wailing solos. They play the bouncy title track, a tune by Dave Bartholomew/Pearl King that Smiley Lewis had a hit on, with the pedal to the metal. Gatemoth Brown's "She Walks Right In" gets the full jump blues treatment, with John Turner's acoustic bass pushing the band into overdrive and the horn section wailing like a chorus of desperate drunks at closing time on Saturday night.
At 43-years-old, New England's Roomful of Blues has been around even longer than Alligator Records. For all that time, they've celebrated the jump blues, R&B and early rock 'n' roll music of the horn-powered golden era of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Roomful don't simply recreate the famous and obscure 78s and 45s of those years. Inspired by the spirit of the groundbreaking bands of the post-World War II decade, they've breathed new life into vintage songs, infusing them with boundless energy and fiery, swinging solos and vocals. For the last two decades, Roomful has been led by Chris Vachon, one of the most underrated guitarists in the blues. For 40 years, their hard-charging horn section has been sparked by Rich Lataille on tenor and alto sax. Energizing the band on Hook, Line & Sinker is their terrific new vocalist, Phil Pemberton. Phil's performances showcase his flamboyant, multi-octave voice, fun-loving attitude and his deep understanding of the era when jumping blues bands were fronted by huge-voiced singers like Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner. This album also gives more showcase space to Chris Vachon's tough guitar work. His version of Gatemouth Brown's Gate Walks To Board proves his talent can match that of the best string-benders. Hook, Line & Sinker is a proud addition to Roomful's glorious musical history.
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