I have spent time with so many good albums recently, that it has been quite a challenge to pick just a few to feature here on Great Dark Wonder. With plenty of hard rock, alt-country, and even some electronica over the last few months, it occurred to me that I needed to find time to focus on some blues. Not that the blues have been ignored; this music is often at the core of some of my favorite artists’ signature sounds. But it’s been a while since an all new blues album crossed my path….at least, until now.
Receiving a copy of the latest album from Riot and the Blue Devils, an original blues band from Montreal, my sudden desire to hear some blues meant that I was incredibly eager to sample “The Roxboro Sessions.” Having no familiarity with the band, I had no clue as to what I should expect. A quick glance at the liner notes offered no hints either. Would this be a traditional Chicago blues album, a southern blues album, or something extraordinary? All it would take is just one spin of this album to find out, and what a ride it turned out to be.
Opening with “Saturday Night Widow,” that distinct traditional blues sound quickly pumped out from the speakers. With some dominant vocals, deliberate guitar picking, and the obligatory 12-bar blues courtesy of a powerful bass line, this one steered my initial beliefs to being rooted firmly in the traditional blues genre. If you skip immediately to both “Walls Are Closing In” and “Instrumental #1,” both certainly reinforce this assumption, serving up the kind of blues that would undoubtedly capture the attention of the purists out there. Performed with such raw passion, the combined musical talents of Riot (guitars/vocals), Big Papa Mike (bass), Mark Di Claudio (percussion) and Andre Chretien (piano/B3 organ) definitely have the necessary tools at their disposal to crank out tunes in similar fashion. But go ahead and sample other tracks on this album and, like me, you will be quite impressed by their willingness to stretch much further than the straightforward traditional genre.
Of course, many types of music can easily be affiliated with the blues. I know of many country-blues bands, and what about some of those old soul numbers that literally became classified as ‘rhythm & blues?’ Riot and his companions clearly have many influences to steer the direction of this album, from rockabilly, country, soul and good old fashioned rock & roll. Start with the track “How Many Times,” and that old soul music pumps out of the speakers sounding like classic rhythm & blues movie soundtracks (The Blues Brothers and The Commitments both spring to mind). Skip next to “Jd Kisses” where some southern boogie meets old country, with enough honky-tonk piano and slide guitar to give this one a definite modern country-blues twist (think Lee Roy Parnell or BR5-49 here). For extra kicks, proceed to “Do I Have To Beg” for that slower, bluesy-ballad with some excellent Hammond B3 action and slower pace to draw comparisons with some of Jeff Healey’s works. In the mood for a little rockabilly to dance along to, then jump to “Howling At The Moon,” and be prepared to get hot and sweaty on a dance floor, or at least attempt to prevent your feet from tapping in time to the super up-tempo pace here.
Riot and the Blues Devils also throw a very contemporary rock track into the mix with “I Miss Your Touch,” offering both a standard full band version and a bonus solo acoustic version. While the first version has enough haunting organ strokes once more to paint the somber tones of a ‘lost love’ blues piece, Riot’s stripped vocals and solo acoustic guitar turn this into a radio friendly crossover that could easily have mainstream appeal outside of the blues genre. Pouring his heart out with the chorus, “Sometimes I wish I could make things right / instead of feeling lonesome every night / trying to let go of our light of dreams / never believin’ I was strong enough,” this solo rendition closes the album with perfect precision. After all, playing on repeat (as I have a habit of doing when reviewing an album), the final fade out means a return to those traditional blues of “Saturday Night Widow” once more. With a diverse mix of original blues-centered tunes on offer, “The Roxboro Sessions” is an absolute delight that deserves to be heard by all. Do I really have to hit the [STOP] button so soon?