Duke Robillard And His Dames Of Rhythm
Review by Willard Manus

This new album is a case history in how to bring old-time jazz into the 21st century. Robillard, a founding member of Roomful of Blues and a sideman for Bob Dylan, Herb Ellis, Big Joe Turner and Ruth Brown, has invited six gal singers to his party, giving them (and musicians like Bruce Bears, Brad Hallen and Billy Novick) lots of room to kick back and have a ball investigating the Great American songbook.
It’s a nifty idea, divvying up the singing chores like that, letting each vocalist take on a song that’s right up her alley. Thus, Sunny Crownover, a belter, gets to attack “From Monday On” and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and Catherine Russell, a torch singer, goes deep into “Blues In My Heart” and “Lotus Blossom.” Kelley Hunt, Elizabeth McGovern, Maria Muldaur and Madeline Peyroux also get their chance to strut their stuff, on a slew of songs ranging from the sultry “Squeeze Me” to the honky-tonk version of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.”

There are fifteen songs on this cd, each of which is explored in depth (“Easy Living,” the Leo Robin tune sung by Peyroux, runs nearly six minutes, for example). You can just feel how grateful the singers and musicians are, having been given the rare chance to stretch out to their heart’s content.

Although Robillard conceived of the album as a hen party, he can’t resist singing a few tunes himself (“Walking Stick,” “What’s the Reason I’m Not Pleasing You?” and “Ready For the River”). But mostly he is content to provide backup on the guitar and let the singers strut their stuff.

The result is the one of the most upbeat and enjoyable albums of the year.