I am sure you have heard of Duke Robillard, whether through his fine body of solo releases or during his time with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He is a consummate musician and has a rare skill on the guitar that he has ably displayed on over thirty-five albums not counting guest appearances. Always backed up by an equally aware band, this album sees him sharing vocal duties with a number of established artists.
Before I go any further, I feel I must take Duke to task… he has called his latest album Ear Worms. Now for me, an ‘ear worm’ sounds like a parasitic invasion of the auditory canal and so I reserve it for songs that deserve that description: songs such as the dreadful Agadoo (go on, admit it, you’re already singing “aga-do-do-do!) or those damn birdies and especially that effing frog! A better description for songs that are exceptional as well as getting into your head and refusing to budge such as the riff to Robert Johnson’s Stones In My Passway or the sublime chorus in Here I Go Again (not the ’87 version), I think is… Aural Sex. That does work best written down but, to me, perfectly describes how music slides into your mind, caresses it and wraps it up in musical bliss…or maybe that’s just me! So, forget the title and sit back for a musical journey through these carefully chosen and interpreted classics.
Opening track, Don’t Bother To Steal Her Love, is Sweet, Beatles and Kinks rolled into one joyous piece of true rock ‘n’ Roll…or rather shows where their inspirations are also rooted. This is the only Duke penned song and the guitar has that glorious ‘twang’ that he always seems to find; it is a familiar chord pattern and song structure but it just bounces along and, with the guitar solo and its clever phrasing, lifts it above the others. Next is a song by Gerry Goffin and Carole King: On This Side of Goodbye in Duke’s hands keeps the slow lilt but the guitar makes the Righteous Brothers version seem a little emptier. I can’t say it is a favourite as it tends toward the mawkish for me, but it is still worth a listen for that guitar tone and playing in the solo. Living With The Animals comes from a Mother Earth album in the fertile ground of 1968. The weighty blues background is lightened by the careful and sparse violin expressions. The picked guitar solo is purposely hesitant and string bends and discord make it sound wrong on first hearing…but listening a couple of times reveals how carefully Duke must have planned that effect and it takes on a different and pleasing colour that rescues a so-so song. Careless Love is an instrumental of a song I know from Elvis’s work. It transfers nicely into a neat work out for guitar and Hammond and, as I never took to Elvis, this is always going to be my preferred version. A Dusty Springfield song next, as Duke takes on Everyday I Have To Cry Some More: it was written by Arthur Alexander and has a typical mid 60s beat and chorus construction. Julie Grant on vocals does a great job of keeping the aura, even with the typically tortured rhymes that the era seemed to put out. It is a lovely, nostalgic journey that, if you were around then, will certainly bring a smile…I was only seven, so it didn’t impinge on my consciousness at the time but is still a pleasant diversion. I Am A Lonesome Hobo is a 1967 Dylan song and the acoustic guitar stays true while the electric uses single notes to punctuate effectively. The vocal tries a little too hard to sound like Bob…which in my view is not always a good thing. It is all saved by the instrumentation which is enthralling and (controversial here) I like it more that the Bob version. Sweet Nothin’s goes back to the Brenda Lee hit from 1959. It evokes the era impeccably. Another instrumental next as the Buzz Carson and Tony Moon 1962 song Soldier of Love gets the empathetic interpretation. Shadows comparisons are inevitable but then that is usually a good pointer as to the success of capturing the time and emotions of the early 60s. Chuck Berry’s Dear Dad is played straight and true to the original although Duke does put his own stamp on the guitar while staying in the Berry style. A great fun song originally and beautifully preserved here. Bob The Builder is next….not really, Yes We Can was written by Allen Toussaint and ruined by the Pointer Sisters in 1973. Here it is more like the Lee Dorsey version but with the superb B3 and guitar it becomes a different and funky slice of blues…the best track on the album for me: I could listen to the extended and inventive guitar solo for ever. Yellow Moon is from a lot later than most of the choices as it comes from The Neville Brothers’ 1989 album. Again it preserves some the original pace and style and yet comes across as if Santana played a semi-acoustic and did the support work on this…enjoyable and fresh with another great solo. Link Wray was a genius of the guitar and, in 1959, had a minor hit with a tune called Rawhide. Duke stays faithful to the surf sound and the whole thing is just great and very nearly as good as the master’s original. Final track is from 1952 and the pen of Joni James: You Belong To Me is a slow jazz/blues based song and, once again, Duke makes the guitar speak with his careful and precise picking and sense of tone as he wrings emotion from every string on this lovely instrumental. A bonus awaits with a totally empathetic B3 solo to match the mood and style.
In summary, this is a feast of nostalgia but served in a way that brings an edge to each song and a new way of imagining the originals. Ear Worms? Not really but, if you like to re-live rose-tinted memories or indeed, if you want to learn about the complexities of the early 60s music, this is a fine place to start…thoroughly enjoyable.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Don’t Bother Trying to Steal Her Love
- On This Side of Goodbye
- Living with the Animals
- Careless Love
- Everyday I Have to Cry Some
- I Am a Lonesome Hobo
- Sweet Nothin’s
- Soldier of Love
- Dear Dad
- Yes We Can
- Yellow Moon
- You Belong to Me
Duke Robillard – guitar & vocals
Bruce Bears – piano, Hammond, vocals
Brad Hallen – acoustic and electric bass
Mark Teixeira – drums, vocals
Marnie Hall – violin
Special Guest vocalists: