For the last 50 years, Roomful of Blues have been doing what their name implies: filling up venues around the world with their big, brassy blues treatments. There have been as many members passing through the lineup as years the band has been together, including Texas blues belter extraordinaire Lou Ann Barton; pianist Al Copley (14 years); vocalist/guitarist Duke Robillard (13 years); guitarist Ronnie Earl, and vocalist Curtis Salgado. The sound has shifted somewhat over the years but has never really changed: brassy, bouncy big-band blues that jumps, swings, struts, and rocks.
Live, the eight-piece band can lift the roof off any joint they stroll into. They’re able to transfer that energy into their records as well, with the help of Roomful vets like guitarist Chris Vachon and vocalist Phil Pemberton, who have been with the band for a decade, as well as tenor and alto sax man Rich Lataille, a member since the 1970s.
The title cut of the group’s latest release, In a Roomful of Blues, is nasty, slinky, low-down, chicken-pickin’ juke-joint blooze, with the horn section adding a touch of big-band class that gets dismissed every time Vachon steps in with his chicken-scratchin’ guitar.
But it’s no preview of what’s lurking in this room. Roomful looks in every corner, snatchin’ up fistfuls of whatever’s lying around and hurling it back, supercharged and ready to rumble.
The band dabbles in zydeco for “Have You Heard,” a lively second-line strut propelled by a Bo Diddley beat punctuated by Carl Gerhard’s trumpet and Rusty Scott’s ‘Fess homage on keys.
Boogie-woogie has always been a Roomful specialty, and they lay out a smooth platform for some cheek-to-cheek dance-floor prancin’ on “Too Much Boogie.”
But Roomful is not just a re-hasher of old-school lessons. What’s kept the band viable for nearly half a century is its ability to adapt and incorporate up-to-date themes in their music. “Phone Zombies” chronicles the living dead state of cell phone addicts who would have to have their devices surgically removed from their hands to bring ’em back to life. Vachon sounds like he might be just the surgeon to perform that operation, wielding his guitar like a razor-sharp scalpel.
It’s always a pleasure to wander into this room and get re-rejuvenated and re-educated by these old-school boys whose lesson never gets old.