It would be a mistake to aver that this CD is too much different from any of The Duke's past oeuvre because he's always been a prime exponent of the 50s / 60s period when blues, soul, jazz, proto-rock, and dashes of other influences all came together with a bang and eight tons of six-string voodoo. No less a coterie of the estimables than Bob Dylan, John Baldry, Dr. John, Jay McShann, Tom Waits, and others have ushered Robillard into the studio and on tour to work his down-in-it magic on their behalf. Nope, what marks *Passport to the Blues* is the level of intensity and gravel-road grit, a loins-deep vibe well bolstered by Doug James' tenor and baritone saxes. More than once, possessed by the raw urban swamp nature of the proceedings, Robillard practically spits out his vocal lines, and the wealth of solos captivate ear and spine, ranging from searing blues to the downright funky (Blues Train).
As if to show just how out and out serious he was, Robillard wrote or co-wrote almost every song this time around, save for one Waits / Brennan cut, pulling a few out of the closet where they'd been stored for a while, pairing with names like Doc Pomus and one of his very talented long-time pards, Al Basile (also here). Rhode Island Red Rooster has a Howlin' Wolf flavor to it while Make It Rain, the Waits / Brennan number and my favorite cut, is a prickling, snarly, rough exercise with leathery gristle and enough guts to string a hundred violins. The song pulls a Billy Gibbons edge out of the guy, razor sharp and brittle.
Duke tolls out When You're Old, You're Cold, then rushes in to exclaim 'Don't believe it, baby!', ironically mellowed, fat, and happy here while tearing it all down elsewhere. And, um, should I mention that he looks like cross between a shaven Col. Sanders and Pu-Tai (or Hotei or Budai), the "Laughing Buddha", on the front cover? Old? Cold? Hardly. Not only is he cranking out some of the jammingest material in his life, but many side adventures with talent like Sunny Crownover (Sunny & Her Joy Boys— here) attest to a fire that only increases in heat and elegance as the years pass. Given this sort of refusal to go Perry Como as the years pass, it may well be that the dudes and dudettes in and around the Boomer generation will be the first to have to be forced kicking and screaming en masse into the Great Beyond when the time comes.
Wouldn't have it any other way.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles