The Knickerbocker All-Stars is a fun swinging group based out of Rhode Island who have recorded and released two previous albums before releasing Texas Rhody Blues. I was (and still am) a big fan of 2015’s Go Back Home To The Blues, and was delighted when this new CD hit my mailbox.
I never really thought about the combination of Texas and Rhode Island when it comes to the blues, but the connection is not as tenuous as it might seem at first. After all, so many great Texas players found their way to the Newport Folk Festival, where so many people were exposed to the blues for the first time.
One story goes that a Boston college student found the blues at the festival, her name is Bonnie Raitt, another concerns a young Rhode Islander named Duke Robillard, who also had his blues dreams awakened as the result of attending the festival. They’ve done pretty well for themselves, I’m told.
In fact, Robillard contributes guitar and vocals to three songs on this album, and he is not alone by any means, as many other top performers join in on this celebration of Texas blues. Other vocalists include Sugar Ray Rayford on three songs; Brian Templeton for two; and Willie J. Laws on three. The line-up of musicians is made up of Mark Teixeira on drums; Brad Hallen on standup and electric bass; Al Copley, Bruce Bears, and Matt McCabe on piano; Monster Mike Welch on guitar; Doug James on baritone and tenor sax; Rich Lataille on alto and tenor sax; Doc Chanonhouse on trumpet; and Carl Querfurth on trombone. Special guest Jimmie Vaughan joins Robillard on three songs.
If that’s not a killer line-up, I’ll eat a Rhode Island sized chimichanga. Actually, that sounds pretty good right now…
Texas Cadillac starts off the album on a seriously high note. It swings in with Welch’s guitar blazing and Sugar Ray Rayford rips through the vocals with his usual style. The rhythm section holds on and the horns make it all come to life. Great opening.
Willie J. Laws handles the vocals on Jimmy McCracklin’s You’ve Got Me Licked. Once again Welch’s guitar sings and the slower tempo gives the horns a larger sound. Two songs in, and I’m already thinking how much I like Welch’s solo work and need to revisit it soon.
Rayford takes back the microphone for Respirator Blues. This is some old-school blues that would be at home in any juke joint in the world. It could just as easily have been a small combo playing this, but the rich sound of the All-Stars elevates it immensely.
Robillard sings and plays guitar on Going To The Country, and he is joined by Jimmie Vaughan. This has that Texas Honky Tonk flavor and the guitar slingers set the table while the horns add just the right spice to the mix. Robillard holds on to the microphone for his take on Roy Milton’s I Have News For You. Bruce Bear’s piano adds a nice touch to the rhythm guitar and the horns that punctuate the song.
Rayford takes over the vocals one last time on Lowell Fulson’s I Still Love You Baby. This is a flat-out swinging number and Rayford is in his element shouting out the song. This one is great and should be getting a lot of air play.
Laws is the vocalist for I Got News For You. Welch walks his guitar through some fun runs and the horns and vocals give the song a soulful feel. Chanonhouse especially tears it up on the trumpet. Very cool. We hear Brian Templeton on vocals for the first time on I Trusted You Baby. It’s another soulful number punctuated by some good horn work that gives the song a big band feel. I’m not sure who takes the sax solo, but I really liked it.
Robillard and Vaughan are back for their last appearance on Blood Stains On The Wall. This is a slow, smoldering, blistering number that creates a very dark mood. Jeez, take a look at the title and you’ll be clued in to that. After listening to this one, I almost felt like dialing the cops…
The instrumental Ain’t That Dandy follows. It’s got a nice bounce to it without getting too sunshiny. Probably a good thing too as I’m sure no one wants to sing a song after that last one. Consider this a nice musical sorbet to cleanse the palette and showcase what the band can do!
Laws takes his last turn at the vocals on the Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones song, Reap What You Sow. This is one emotional number and Welch’s guitar is in fine form. This is a beautiful song; soulful and Laws does a great job interpreting it.
T Bone Speaks is not a song, but a portion of conversation with the legendary T-Bone Walker. As a musical historian, I’m fascinated to hear this. If you want to know more about the blues, you may be as well. Hey, if you just want to get to the music, hit the “next” button. It’s a great segue into the last song on the album which belongs to vocalist Templeton, Tell Me What’s The Reason. The band takes its time getting to the vocals and it sets up the number nicely. We’re swinging here and that’s just fine by me.
Texas Rhody Blues is a fun album that every blues and swing lover will want to have in their collection. It’s easily going to end up on my “Best Of” list and several of the songs are going straight onto a show for Time For The Blues. Right now, it’s going back into my CD player and the repeat button is on. I want to hear the whole thing a few more times.
In the meantime, be sure to check out their website, http://knickerbockerallstars.com/ for more information and the chance to pick up their previous CDs. I need the first one to complete my collection and I will have that one soon. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!