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Standing Room Only

Roomful of Blues

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Album Review

With its second release for the Alligator label, the journeyman Rhode Island ensemble maintains its reputation as no-nonsense keepers of retro-flavored horn-based upbeat blues. The band's previous album was nominated for a Grammy and this one maintains the energy, taste, and passion it has always supplied in its cover choices, while delivering some excellent original material. Harpist/singer Mark DuFresne's booming, husky vocals are reminiscent of Big Joe Turner, one of the group's obvious influences, as he bellows and leads the charge through 14 more examples of why Roomful of Blues remain the finest jump blues outfit on the scene 35 years after their debut. Although the slightly deceptive album title indicates this might be a concert disc, it is all recorded in the studio, but retains a live feel that leaps out of the speakers. Hearing the eight-piece pounce on saxist Rich Lataille's instrumental tribute to Illinois Jacquet, "Straight Jaquette," it's obvious that these guys would also have the chops to pull off a straight jazz release if they put their minds to it. Rollicking versions of Roy Brown's "Up Jumped the Devil," Lowell Fulson's "Love Grown Cold," and a pair of obscurities from Little Milton sit comfortably next to likeminded originals. One of those, guitarist/bandleader Chris Vachon's "Boomerang," has a catchy singalong chorus strong enough to be a radio hit, if contemporary radio played this style of music. But that minor detail has never prevented Roomful of Blues from adding a slight contemporary spin to a sound that was popular before these guys — and most of their fans — were born. And it doesn't stop the band from delivering wildly successful albums like this, albeit to an ever-dwindling core demographic. Standing Room Only doesn't expand the group's reach, but it maintains and even solidifies the position of Roomful of Blues as the most accomplished horn-dominated jump blues/R&B band on the scene.

Biography

Formed: 1967 in Providence, RI

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Over the course of their decades-long existence, Roomful of Blues effectively became a franchise unto themselves, built more on a brand-name collective identity than on the voices of the myriad individual members who kept the band a smoothly humming machine. Describing Roomful of Blues that way, however, gives short shrift to the many accomplished musicians who have emerged from the band's ranks over the years: guitarists Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, organist Ron Levy, pianist Al Copley, singer...
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Standing Room Only, Roomful of Blues
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