The Duke Robillard Band, With Special Guest Monster Mike Welch (Stony Plain)
The great Duke Robillard has ventured into jazz, rhythm & blues, Tex-Mex, rock, folk, and even psychedelia throughout his storied, unconventional career.
But this album brings him back to the roots and underbelly of it all, the blues. And with its expected finesse, his band is up to the task of delivering a very solid, noteworthy blues album that has a few surprises mixed in, from soloing to arrangements.
It’s bawdy, sassy, swampy, soulful and inspirational stuff from the gut, while managing to be fresh and alive — a testament to the writing and performing abilities of Robillard, who formed Roomful of Blues as a teenager in 1967.
Twenty three years later, in 1990, Robillard replaced Jimmie Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds before fronting his own band again. He toured the world non-stop until recently, including a span with Tom Waits, and contributed to Bob Dylan’s 1997 album, “Time Out of Mind,” as well as others. He is currently on tour as Dylan’s guitarist.
— TOM HENRY
Monty Alexander (Jazz Legacy Productions)
Jamaica-born Monty Alexander may not be the world’s No. 1 jazz pianist, but it’s hard to avoid including him in a discussion about the top three. This outstanding follow-up to his critically acclaimed “Uplift” disc from 2011 (which twice held the No. 1 spot on the JazzWeek chart) does exactly what the title suggests — uplift you and provide immense joy.
It’s not just Alexander is a master of swing: Think of the challenge that exists in energizing the listener’s soul with standards such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
He infuses energy and enthusiasm into his music like few others and gets you hearing things you never thought possible, even in the most familiar songs. He’s high octane, but more than that. He’s simply brilliant.
She & Him (Merge Records)
Is there any limit to Zooey Deschanel’s creativity?
With her comical hit show, New Girl, it’s hard to work out when she would have the time to write music. And the new album “Volume 3” from her duo, She & Him, with singer-songwriter M. Ward, definitely doesn’t sound like an album that’s been made on the side.
Their third record bursts to life with the bluesy “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” and Deschanel’s tone is dulcet. It’s the kind of song you imagine being played on the jukebox in a 1950s diner.
The lyrics throughout the album are dreamy and full of unrequited love, but sung in an almost theatrical way. In “Never Wanted Your Love,” Deschanel adopts a Texan drawl. The addition of Ward’s voice on “Baby” creates a beautiful harmony with Deschanel’s tone, and an electric guitar riff adds a rock ‘n’ roll spin to the record.
The album’s only weak moment is the cover of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl,” which comes off flat. Otherwise, She & Him has a winner.
— SIAN WATSON, Associated Press