Album Reviews

New Alligator Release "In A Roomful of Blues" Reviews

Living  Blues - Henry L. Carrigan Jr. 

ROOMFUL OF BLUES In a Roomful of Blues Alligator Records – ALCD-4998 Roomful of Blues is of course the perfect name for this band because they fill up the room with their energetic and propulsive sound. There’s no standing still when these guys are around, for they start out kicking out the jams and take us higher and higher with them on every song. The opening track on their new album—their first in nine years— What Can I Do? swings and sways with pulsing horns and pulsating guitars. It’s a smoking cover of R&B legend Buddy Ace’s original. Roomful of Blues’ cover of Doc Pomus’ Too Much Boogie sashays across the dance floor with its full-bodied swinging rhythms. The band, led by guitarist Chris Vachon, sax master Rich Lataille, and vocalist Phil Pemberton, delivers a richly textured album filled with a range of blues, jazz, and soul tunes. The funky soul of the title track floats along Vachon’s snaky guitar and the band’s dynamic horn section. Phrases from the Band and the Memphis soul stew from Royal Studios wind through the song. The languid, bluesy ballad She Quit Me Again floats soulfully along a colorful sound tapestry woven from the strains of a jazz lounge piano, vibrant guitars, and undulating horns. She’s Too Much is a jump blues that rockets right off the grooves, while Have You Heard rides along a zydeco rhythm. Raucous and rambunctious, We’d Have a Love Sublime rocks and rolls with a reckless rockabilly flavor. The album closes with the jump blues stylings of I Can’t Wait. It sure is good to have Roomful of Blues back. There is not a bad song on In a Roomful of Blues, and we’re dancing from the first track to the last. Like the title of the closing song, we can’t wait to hear the next album from Roomful of Blues and hope it’s not as long a time between albums.

Nippertown - Brian Cornish 

Roomful of Blues, in over five decades of playing, have established themselves as one of the most accomplished blues bands in existence. Their latest release, In A Roomful Of Blues, released March 13th is their sixth recording on the iconic Alligator Records label, and is available on their website. Roomful is an apt word to describe the eight-piece band, as it includes a vocalist, guitarist, keyboards, rhythm section and a three-piece horns ensemble. 

They kick things off with “What Can I Do?,” a song that was actually the B-side of a 45 sung by Buddy Ace back in 1961 on the classic Duke label. It’s a swinging number with the punch of the horn section and accented by keyboard flourishes. 

The thirteen track collection covers a broad range, including swing, jump blues, some funk, ballads, rock, and more. The song that perhaps best showcases the band as a whole is “Have You Heard?,” a zydeco tinged tune that displays the full, lush sound of Roomful, without stepping on each other’s toes and losing any of the instrumentation in the mix. 

Other highlights include “We’d Have A Love Sublime,” which chugs along like an old locomotive, steadily gaining steam along the way; “Too Much Boogie,” a call and response Doc Pomus song; and the closer, “I Can’t Wait,” which will leave listeners snapping their fingers and wanting more from this polished group of musicians.

Downbeat - Frank-John Hadley 

Roomful of Blues, In A Roomful Of Blues (Alligator 4998; 44:51 ++++) Fifty-three years and more than a dozen albums after starting off in Rhode Island bars and coffeehouses, Roomful of Blues now gives fresh credence to the old assertion that this horn band is “in a class by itself.” On the first Roomful studio album in nine years, Phil Pemberton’s sure and steady voice shows his understanding of the emotional fiber of 10 high-quality original tunes and a few well-chosen obscurities, “What Can I Do?” and “Too Much Boogie.” Talented guitarist and primary songwriter Chris Vachon, the boss since the ‘90s, continues to promote the famous Roomful jump-blues sound where tight arrangements and concise solos help realize the full power of the music. Lots of raw new energy comes courtesy of young saxophonist Alek Razdan, a recent hire who parlays his integrative studies of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Red Prysock and Boots Randolph into an exciting personal style.

Concert Monkey - Walter Vanheuckelom 

Roomful Of Blues is an American band formed in Rhode Island in 1967 by Duke Robillard. So the band has been around for more than fifty years and has therefore experienced quite a few staff changes. Yet they have remained faithful to their musical mix of swing, rock 'n' roll, jump, blues and rhythm & blues. In those fifty years, the Roomful Of Blues has won five Grammy Awards, seven Blues Music Awards and the prestigious DownBeat International Critics Poll for Best Blues Band. The band has already released nineteen albums, of which 'Hook, Line & Sinker' from 2011 is the most recent studio album. In 2014 the beautiful live album '45 Live 'was released. Nine years after 'Hook, Line & Sinker' there is a new studio album with 'In A Roomful Of Blues'. It contains thirteen songs, the majority of which were written by the band members of Roomful Of Blues. Chris Vachon was the most industrious, he wrote or helped write eight songs. 'In A Roomful Of Blues' is the sixth album from Roomful Of Blues on Alligator Records. 

The album opens with the very danceable rhythm & blues cover 'What Can I Do?', With which Don Robey scored a hit in 1961. Thanks to drummer Chris Anzalone and bassist John Turner, 'What Can I Do?' a wonderful groove. Phil Pemberton's beautiful soul voice never sounded better and keyboardist Rusty Scott has an excellent presence throughout the track with his boogie woogie piano. He crowns his instrumental performance with a very attractive solo. The swinging wind section, with trumpet player Carl Gerhard and saxophonists Rich Lataille and Alek Razdan, also contribute more than anything in this energetic song. They blow the necessary power and soul into the song. The very enjoyable sax solo gives 'What Can I Do?' another extra asset. The horns once again play a leading role in 'You Move Me' a Memphis soul song, sung by Phil Pemberton and with a lot of feeling. Phil co-wrote the song with guitarist Chris Vachon. For me, the title track 'In A Roomful Of Blues' written by Chris Vachon is one of the highlights on this album. It is a soulful song with a beautiful groove and Chris shows here several times that he can conjure very fine and soulful riffs out of his six string. Phil Pemberton also knows how to impress with his voice and is certainly an asset to the band and that is not obvious when you know that Lou Ann Barton, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Curtis Salgado were his predecessors. 

Chris Vachon and Bob Moulton wrote the hilarious 'Phone Zombies', a song about our GSM and iPhone addict society. Phone Zombies, by the way, starts with the ringing of such a phone. Drummer Chris Anzalone and bassist John Turner provide a strong and driving groove and Rusty Scott subtly enriches the sound with his warm Hammond riffs. Guitarist Chris Vachon shines with his gritty and piercing strings. With an excellent bass line on his double bass, John Turner starts the driving 'Watch Your Back'. Phil Pemberton warns us against modern criminals and crooks. The horn section reinforces that warning and Vachon is again explicitly present with punchy and biting guitar riffs. Bob Moulton, who wrote five songs together with Vachon, plays rhythm guitar here and sings the backing vocals. 'She Quit Me Again' is a smoldering, soulful ballad, again sung in a great way by Phil Pemberton. You feel the emotion and sadness in his voice. Rusty Scott also knows how to put that same feeling in his piano playing. Rich Lataille or Alek Razdan puts the icing on the cake with a smoldering sax solo, which fits like a glove in this 'She Quit Me Again'. The joy and fun of the 'She's Too Much' written by Rusty Scott. In this swinging vintage rhythm & blues song, the wind players and trumpet player Carl Gerhard shine the crown with a fantastic trumpet solo. With the Gary Cummings cover 'Have You Heard' Roomful of Blues opens the Zydeco, where the accordion of guest musician Dick Reed plays a very large part. Drummer Chris Anzalone provides the Bo Diddley beat with tight and exciting percussion. The horns add a bit of Memphis soul to this festive song. 

The eight-piece formation of Roomful Of Blues lets itself go in the dazzling vintage rocker 'We'd Have A Love Sublime'. This song draws you from the first notes to the dance floor and the elderly among us will feel like Golden Sixties. From a sublime love to a battle against cancer is just a small step on this album. In the epic blues song 'Carcinoma Blues' Phil Pemberton sings with great emotion about the painful battle against cancer. Rusty Scott is with jazzy tinted piano playing is present throughout the song and the sound of the horns creates a feeling of sadness and helplessness. Chris Vachon also tries to stay in the same mood with his handsome, smoldering string solo. The big band feeling is abundant in the Doc Pomus cover 'Too Much Boogie'. This kind of music has always been the specialty of Roomful Of Blues and again the musicians put their heart into the song. Big Band also means wind instruments, so saxophonists Rich Lataille and Alek Razdan and trumpet player Carl Gerhard can take turns showing their instrumental virtuosity during a solo. Rusty Scott colors the sound with his fantastic boogie woogie piano playing. Rusty also shines on the keys in the vintage Chicago blues tinted 'Let The Sleeping Dog Lie', this time not on the piano but on the Hammond. The album closes with the short, less than two minute long swinging 'I Can't Wait', written by Alek Razdan. It is also Alek who blows his lungs out during a fantastic solo on the saxophone. Phil Pemberton sings the swinging song in a very relaxed way. The fans of Roomful Of Blues will be happy that their wait is rewarded with this excellent album. Roomful Of Blues is a band that never disappoints and they don't with 'In A Roomful Of Blues' either. The fans of the big band feeling and swinging jump blues will certainly get their money's worth with this album. 

The Alternate Root - Bryant Liggett 

Call the band an institution. Roomful of Blues, the Rhode Island-based Blues outfit, deserves that title solely from tenure. Fifty years in the business deserves accolades and despite dozens of players that have taken their spot in the band, Roomful of Blues remain a foundation of the Blues world, a reliable presentation of swinging, badass Big Band Blues music. Longevity is a selling point for any business, whether a you are making shoes or singing the Blues, and the band’s latest release, In A Roomful of Blues, showcases their branded swinging Blues product at its finest. 

Roomful of Blues comes out swinging with “What Can I Do?” as the horns punch over a solid rhythm section as the title track finds those horns laying underneath a guitar intro. The band tosses in a novelty cut with “Phone Zombies,” taking a crack at anyone that has ever had their eyes on the screen instead of the sidewalk, road, or anyplace that should have their attention. “She Quit Me Again” is a lounge cut with a sad New York City 1980’s saxophone and a lonely piano ramble where you can smell the smoke of sadness. “She’s Too Much” and “Too Much Boogie” are jumping Jazz cuts and “Have You Heard” travels far south to dig into Zydeco territory. “Let the Sleeping Dog Lie” lets that splashy guitar set an old-school tone while “I Can’t Wait” is a bouncy love song. Efficient and thorough, Roomful of Blues lets their tradition be a selling point and calling card. Every horn blast, every guitar fill is exactly where it should be on what is another text-book example of Big Band Blues.

Chicago Blues Guide - Mark Thompson 

It has been almost seven years since the last Roomful Of Blues album, Live, hit the market. During that span, long-time members trumpeter Doug Woolverton and saxophonist Mark Early moved on, now part of The Train, Victor Wainwright's fine band. Filling their slots are Carl Gerhard on trumpet and Alek Razdan on tenor and baritone sax. A member of the band since it started over fifty years ago, Rich Lataille is still aboard on tenor and alto sax. Guitarist Chris Vachon, now celebrating thirty years with the band including twenty-plus years as the leader, produced the album and had a hand in writing eight songs. Other returning members include Phil Pemberton on vocals, John Turner on upright bass, and Rusty Scott on keyboards. Chris Anzalone takes over on drums. One thing that has never varied over the decades is the sound -- the horn-driven arrangements that are hallmark of the band's enduring popularity, not to mention stellar guitar work from players like Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, and Vachon.  Out front has been a succession of notable singers including Lou Ann Barton, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Curtis Salgado. Pemberton quickly reminds listeners that he has a voice to be reckoned with on the opener, “What Can I Do,” sparked by Scott's pumping piano over the horn section, with a pause for a lusty tenor sax break. He is equally at home on a cover of Doc Pomus's “Too Much Boogie,” a swinging number that gives several of the horns players an opportunity to shine. The other cover, “Have You Heard,” has the band taking a detour to Louisiana, with Dick Reed on accordion adding a dash of zydeco flavoring. Of the originals, “Phone Zombies” is a humorous, but sobering, lament about our penchant for handheld devices. Vachon adds some taut licks over a steady-rolling groove, while Scott's embellishments on the organ add a subtle touch. Vachon wrote the title track, with Pemberton crying out, “Just about lost our minds...Well, let's get up and boogaloo, out of this roomful of blues”. Vachon answers with some nuanced guitar interludes. Bob Moulton, who co-wrote five songs with Vachon, plays guitar and does the backing vocal on “Watch Your Back,” a tune with a tough disposition, warning us to keep a close eye on the world around us. Scott's songwriting contribution, “She's Too Much,” would have been right at home in the movie Swingers, a rousing number with a big beat that is a sure-fire way to pack the dance floor. Another Moulton-Vachon collaboration, “She Quit Me Again,” is a late-night weeper, with Pemberton spinning a web of pain and betrayal. The anguish is even more pronounced on “Carcinoma Blues,” a harrowing slow blues journey through the battle against cancer. “You Move Me” has a brisk, soulful strut with superbly executed horn lines. Vachon's “We'd Have A Love Sublime” is a full-bore rocker with generic lyrics while “Let The Sleeping Dog Lie” showcases some beautifully crafted interplay between Vachon and the horn section. The disc closes with a brief, spirited run-through of a Razdan original, “I Can't Wait”. All of the band's strengths are on display – a swinging tempo, Pemberton's smooth vocal, bold horn accents, topped with a muscular tenor sax solo. It may have been a long wait, but Roomful of Blues is back, sounding as good as ever. There aren't many bands around that feature a killer horn section, and even fewer that are equally accomplished in all of the other meaningful areas. With their sixth release on Alligator, Roomful of Blues serves notice that they are still one of the best bands in the business. Let the houserockin' commence!

Blues Music Online - By Don Wilcock 
This band is as dependable – and predictable – as Coca Cola and Colonel Sander’s Fried Chicken. Like Coca Cola, they have become a long-standing brand name trusted for their consistency with their fan base. You know every album is going to feature well-crafted horn arrangements on songs built on a base of swing, jump, and R&B sounds of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. And, like Colonel Sander's Fried Chicken, they may tweak the recipe now and then, but they’ve never changed that brand name to ROB like The Colonel did to KFC. Nor do they have a single recognizable “character” whose individual image makes it easy for journalists like me to write about as a figure head the way say Mark Wenner is with The Nighthawks.Yes, Chris Vachon has been the producer and guitar player for 30 years, but for a band that’s been recording and touring for more than half a century, released 21 albums including this one, and whose alumni include such seminal guitar masters as Ronnie Earl and Duke Robillard, Vachon comes across like the new kid on the block. The longest tenured member of the group is tenor and alto sax player Rich Lataille who joined the group as a teenager in 1970. The rest of the band has been filled out by an ever-changing cadre of more than 40 musicians.All that said, there is a lot new and significant about this release. It’s their first album of new material in nine years, and nine of the cuts are originals, eight of which were written or co-written by Vachon. Predictably, the other four songs include “What Can Do” co-written by Don Robey, founder of the ‘50s R&B Duke/Peacock label and “Too Much Boogie” by the prolific Doc Pomus, best known for his Elvis Presley hits.Of the new songs, “She Quit Me” and “We’d Have A Love Sublime” stand out. The first is a surprisingly contemporary sounding soul song with great smoky sax solos. The second is a cruising groover that would fit nicely into the soundtrack of American Graffiti. Vachon’s production throughout is extraordinary. Never does this eight-piece band sound busy, and the horn arrangements are as original and as important a defining element of each song as guitars are on most blues albums.

Out Of The Box - Paul Shugrue 

True blues fans know that this style of music, rather than making you feel sad, is meant to make you feel good. Roomful of Blues has a fifty year history of raising the roof wherever they play with raucous, jump, swing and rock steady blues and on their first studio album in nine years, “In a Roomful of Blues”  they keep that tradition alive. 

Chris Vachon’s guitar playing has been the band’s trademark since he first joined in 1990 and the horn section, which has earned them the title “best little big band in the blues” is phenomenal. Vachon has written the majority of the songs with Phil Pemberton belting them out with a smile behind his voice. 

As the bands alternates between slow burning soul grooves and upbeat call and response boogie they set the standard for how a sense of humor can color a song just the right way. 

Roomful of Blues has seen a lot of personnel come and go over the years but their current lineup is the longest lived and shows off that experience with the joyful, funkiness of “In a Roomful of Blues.” 

 

Il Blues (Italy) - Luca Zaninello 

ROOMFUL OF BLUES In A Roomful Of Blues Alligator 4998 (USA) - 2020 - We haven't been dealing with Roomful of Blues for a while and therefore we are pleased to have in our hands the new job with which to rediscover the richness of their sound. Their dynamism, the class with which they propose themselves alive, the ability to combine the best of the decades of the last century in an always modern language, have long placed them among the most interesting groups on the world scene. All this after having passed the half century of activity, having had the ability to assimilate the lesson of the Chicago blues and broaden their musical horizons by crossing numerous genres, thanks to which they have enriched their very broad and diversified expressiveness. The atmosphere is immediately enthralling with the opening of "What Can I Do?" who sees all the musicians in great shape, the leader Chris Vachon emerges with one of his fine measured solos and confirms himself to be an inspired composer, as we note in the title track and many other songs, often written in tandem with Bob Moulton; the latter is present as a guest on the rhythmic guitar in the swinging blues of "Watch Your Back". The excellent winds of Rick Lataille and Alek Razdan on sax and Carl Gerhard on trumpet are the masters in "You Move Me", which offers reminiscences from Blues Brothers. Instead, we imagine ourselves projected between the 50s and 60s with "We'd Have A Love Sublime", which conveys a desire to dance from the first note, while we can jump forward at least another decade to listen to the brushes on the snare by Chris Anzalone who introduce the refined "She Quit Me Again", where the voice of Phil Pemberton proves his flexibility in a classy interpretation. Dick Read's accordion gives the zydeco sound of "Have You Heard" with its contagious joy and the same can be said of a jewel like "She's Too Much", written by the keyboard player, which recalls the performances of the big bands with stars and stripes . In the end, the band's jazz verve emerges with even more evident through two excellent songs, "Too Much Boogie" in which each of the winds stands once again, above the appropriate phrasing on the piano by Rusty Scott, while the final "I Can ' t Wait ", in its essentiality (or perhaps for that very reason) leaves the desire to immediately press the replay button, confirming the formation of Rhode Island one of those which, thanks to their great job, know how to transfer the same passion to the listener.

No Depression - Grant Britt 

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.

 

 

Bill Copeland Music News - Bill Copeland

In A Roomful Of Blues is a crackling effort by the latest lineup of New England favorite, Rhode Island-based Roomful Of Blues. Everything here is up to this 50 plus year old band’s standards, and, the boys stretch out a bit lyrically with some contemporary themed lyrics as well as with some more rockin’, funkin’ grooves. Yet, all of it can transport you back to a classy 1940s to late 1950s night club show band atmosphere. Most of the original numbers were written by guitarist Chris Vachon and guest singer/musician Bob Moulton 

Opening track “What Can I Do,” a cover of a song partially credited to Don Robey, jumps into action with plenty of snap, crackle, and pop. It blends oldies rock and roll idioms with a swinging blues horn section. Not only do the horns blare with pleasing eruptions, one horn takes on a solo flight that burns as it moves rapidly forward. Blues piano and a cracker jack rhythm section push it with danceable momentum. On his third Roomful album, vocalist Philip Pemberton sounds better than ever. Maintaining his usual Jack Daniels smooth croon, Pemberton increases his assertive, soulful side, making this song click with hip attitude and worldly awareness. 

Speaking of Pemberton, he gives more of himself, soulfulness and self-discipline, on “You Move Me.” His vocal delivery, self restrained, is full of feeling here and he rolls it out like those classic singers of yesteryear, letting his cool, relaxed approach spread it over the instrumentation with a reassuring confidence. A second treat is a saxophone phrase that move through the rhythmic twists and turns with a cool jive that just keeps on pumping. Pemberton co-wrote this dandy with Roomful’s 22 year veteran guitarist Chris Vachon, one can only hope he writes more songs in the future. 

Title track In A Roomful Of Blues is a peppy mid-tempo piece packed with classy touches of horn, piano, organ, and groove. Chris Vachon emits bits of brittle, greasy electric guitar notes that flavor this tune like bacon on a tasty burger. Pemberton asserts his vocal power with just enough force, just enough belt to keep things soulful, real, and swaggering. 

Already a hit single on national blues radio, “Phone Zombies” catches the ear with hip, snappy vocals over engaging bursts of electric guitar. Pemberton finesses the lyrics about our smart phone obsessed society as Chris Vachon powers it with guitar phrase that erupt like blaring horn shots. 

“Watch Your Back” gets a rollicking bass line from John Turner, a low end movement that this whole deal swings around. Chris Vachon presses out some biting guitar notes as Pemberton sings this one with a street preacher charisma A hip, swaggering, cautionary message about today’ modern criminals and hustlers, this one makes you picture the bad guys coming up behind you. The Roomful horn section backs this one with an interval of horn shots that give more swing and that contrasts perfectly with the tight formation of the other instrumentalists. 

An elegant, down tempo blues number, Vachon and Moulton’s “She Quit Me Again,” exemplifies the ensemble strength of this eight piece band. Pemberton’s refined soulfulness at the microphone, Rusty Scott’s sensitivity at the piano, and the horn section’s emotive moan insure that this work stands out for its mellow expression of a loner’s heartbroken, downtrodden mood. 

The Roomful boys have fun with the rollicking “She’s Too Much.” Again, John Turner’s bass makes it swing. Drummer Chris Anzalone moves it into Turner’s swinging, pulpy motions as pianist Rusty Scott, who composed this number, tinkles its magic feeling. Electric guitar riffs and bouncy horn shots make it showy fun. Pemberton, meanwhile, keeps everything jazzy at the microphone with his loosey goosey jive cat exuberance. 

A cover of Gary Cumming’s New Orleans flavored “Have You Heard About Me” feels Big Easy in more ways than one can count. It’s in trumpet player Carl Gerhard’s wide, effusive melodic line, guest musician Dick Reed’s swaying accordion line, Chris Vachon’s jumpy electric guitar chords, and a chunky groove. Alongside the breezy fun, vocalist Phil Pemberton coolly expresses the swooping movements of this piece with his honey smooth vocal. 

“We’d Have A Love Sublime” moves like the best 1950s rock and rollers. Chris Anzalone’s tricky backbeat and engaging fills make it come alive with propulsive power. Over that beat can be found blazing horns, knobby low end, riffy electric guitar funk, and a layering of piano and organ that keep this rooted in an earlier time. Pemberton’s low key vocal let s him emit just the right amount of cool per verse. There is plenty of danceable fun packed into each meter. 

The slow boil blues number here might not have gone over well in earlier decades. Yet, “Carcinoma Blues” feels very acceptable because of how familiar we all have become with this disease as it has taken so many from us as we helplessly look on at their struggles. This tune, regardless of its topic, has all of the trademark qualities of epic blues numbers. Pemberton’s heartfelt crooning, Vachon’s smoldering lead guitar, Scott’s jazzy tinkling, sustained horn blares, and a nice thick groove bring this tune to glorious life as it describes the ultimate battle. 

Roomful tackle the old Doc Pomus classic “Too Much Boogie.” Capturing the essence of this jump-blues call and response number, Pemberton’s vocal is appropriately full of mid-20th century pop. The horn section guys take turns blowing out full-filled boogie woogie lines of various thickness. Gluing all of this together is the piano and rhythm section, maintaining a lilting groove all the way through. 

“Let The Sleeping Dogs Lie” bops in with mid tempo muscle. The groove, pulpy and full, pushes things forward with a nice thick low end and adept drum fills. Vachon’s works his snappy melodic line into a dance of curlycues around that rhythm section. Then, the horn section punctuates with swinging authority and the whole thing comes together with Pemberton’s vocal strut occupying just the right spaces. 

Close out track “I Can’t Wait,” contributed by Roomful’s sax player Alex Razdan, feels like a jump blues number from an earlier time. Razdan’s zippy sax phrase dances around the groove with spirited drive and that sets the tone for the entire piece. The bands swings with wind in their sails here, grooving with large energy coming from each player. Each band member is keenly aware of what each songs needs and here Pemberton’s measured vocal reveals ultimate passion without overwhelming the piece. 

Roomful Of Blues have come up with an impressive busload of passionate vocals and soaring musicianship on this new disc, In a Roomful Of Blues, recorded at PM Studios in Wakefield, Rhode Island and The Power Station NE in Waterford, Connecticut. With the vibe of large party and the talent to keep that party swinging, this band delivers the goods aplenty.

 

Elmore Magazine - Tom Clarke 

In a Roomful of Blues indeed. In the wake of more than 50 years of high-steppin’, blues-rooted hootin’ and hollerin’, and after some 60 members walked in and out of their doors, Roomful of Blues still rattles those doors right off their hinges with highly animated swing. 

The eight-piece band, led by longtime guitarist Chris Vachon, never loses sight of the revival aspect that’s defined them from the start, but they certainly reimagine their sound here, aiming wider, and emphasizing more of the facets that have made the blues a staple of life for so many, through generations. For instance, Vachon’s “Phone Zombies” bops and rocks contagiously, but, with acerbic, riotous lines like “You’ve seen them in the malls, just walking into walls,” the song can’t fail to make a new connection. 

They kick the party off with Don Robey’s old R&B jumper, “What Can I Do?” A 1961 B-side for Texan Buddy Ace, it encapsulates everything great about a Roomful rocker. It’s unusual, and the rhythm’s quick and tight. The horn trio, still heated by original sax player Rich Lataille, pumps alongside rippling piano. And vocalist Phil Pemberton sings the hell out of it. At times, with a touch of acid coating his otherwise smooth and clear pipes, Pemberton recalls soul great Curtis Salgado, who in fact fronted Roomful briefly in the mid-1980s. He’s an unassuming star here. Pemberton’s delivery of Vachon’s “In a Roomful of Blues” demonstrates his soulfulness, and his persuasiveness behind the dual intent of the song. 

Much has changed in the nine years since the last Roomful album, and Vachon’s words to this bold, punchy blues are as tasteful as his guitar playing is cool and cutting. Every one of these players plays to great strengths. “You Move Me” moves like a serpentine figurine out to tease, its backbeat strong and confident. “She Quit Me Again” burns with late night rejection, but the music exudes silky elegance. “She’s Too Much” rumbles on a samba groove, conjuring a vivid picture of swaying horns and energetic dancers at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club during the Swing era. This Roomful of Blues can play practically any style of blues with vigorous panache. At this rate, I fully expect they’ll blow the doors off the joint at their Centennial.

 

 Jim Hynes - Glide Magazine 

The 50-plus-year institution known as Roomful of Blues continues to deliver jazzy, poignant jump blues with their 8-piece little big band. Roomful of Blues, established in Rhode Island in 1967 by Duke Robillard, has been led by guitarist Chris Vachon for the past 22 years. Surely, members have rotated in and out of the lineup but the original sound they laid down, beginning in the late ‘60s, is still very much intact. In a Roomful of Blues is their first studio album since 2011, their 19th overall and sixth on the Alligator label. The band has garnered five Grammy-award nominations and earned seven BMAs over the course of their tenure and may compete again with this stellar effort. 

They deliver 13 diverse songs, ten of which were written by band members, exceeding the number on any previous album. Vachon penned or co-penned eight with one each from saxophonist Alek Razdan and keyboardist Rusty Scott. The longest-running member is tenor and alto man Rich Lataille, who joined in 1970. Vocalist Pemberton has been aboard since 2010 and the other players represent relatively new additions – Alek Razdan (baritone and tenor), Carl Gerhard (trumpet), Chris Anzalone (drums), John Turner (upright bass), and Rusty Scott (keyboards). This lineup not only sounds vital, but they prove to deliver a more wide-ranging set of material than is customary for the band’s huge servings of jump blues, which had a tendency of making them sound a little dated.  Of course, that’s still here with the originals “She’s Too Much” which is imbued with Latin stylings and the Cab Calloway style horns. Razdan’s rollicking “I Can’t Wait” travels similar turf, but there’s lots more. The band has made it a practice even from its earliest days to unearth obscure R&B tunes from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Here they offer “What Can I Do?” (originally cut by R&B legend Buddy Ace) and “Too Much Boogie” from the iconic songwriter Doc Pomus.  They put down searing straight-ahead blues in “You Move Me” and surprise with the smoldering balladry of “She Quit Me again.” The title track is funky, leading into the tongue-in-cheek humor of “Phone Zombies.” “We’d Have a Love Sublime” borders on vintage rock n’ roll and guest Dick Reed’s accordion helps form the zydeco groove for “Have You Heard.” Unlike a jazz band, these tunes stay in the two to four-minute range, allowing only for short, crisp solos as the three horns are often in ensemble mode. Expect these talented players to stretch out in the live shows. 

As a teenager/young adult this writer would often be at the Rhode Island beaches during the summer and can recall seeing “Tonight -Roomful of Blues” written on a chalkboard in front of the Blue Door in Narragansett. Fast forward over fifty years later and Roomful has become far more than a local bar band. Having played aboard in 22 countries including Lebanon, Poland, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and Russia. In my earliest memories, they were also just a bunch of Rhode Island teenagers who wanted to play blues Chicago-style as an electric blues band. They added a horn section in 1970 (when Rich Lataille joined) and released their first self-titled album on Island Records in 1977. Since then they have never looked back and now, they sound refreshed and as good as they always have.

 

Rock And Blues Muse - By Kevin Porter 

The renowned blues-swing band, Roomful of Blues makes a welcomed return with In a Roomful of Blues on March 13 via Alligator Records. In a Roomful of Blues is the band’s first album of original material in nine years and its 23rd overall. The album shows a band at the top of its game with a blend of blues, funk, rock, Latin, jazz, soul and even zydeco. Like the group’s previous albums, In a Roomful of Blues takes you on a quick tour of American musical history, produced by guitarist Chris Vachon. 

Five-time Grammy nominees, seven-time Blues Music Award winners, Roomful of Blues got its start in 1967, when a group of teenagers combined forces to play Chicago-style blues in honor of their musical heroes. Dozens of musicians have cycled through the band in its long history, and notable alumni include guitarists Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl; singers Lou Ann Barton, Curtis Salgado and Sugar Ray Norcia; and drummer Fran Christina (Fabulous Thunderbirds). The band has played with or toured with numerous musical legends such as Joe Turner, Count Basie, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Pat Benatar and Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

Chris Vachon produced and wrote/co-wrote eight of the 13 songs on the record. Saxophonist Alek Razdan and keyboardist Rusty Scott each contributed one; and three cover songs fill out the rest of the album. Vocalist Phil Pemberton, trumpeter Carl Gerhard, bassist John Turner, drummer Chris Anzalone and saxophonist Rich Lataille (who joined the band as a teenager and is commemorating his 50th year in the band), comprise the rest of the band. 

The party begins when the horn section swings into “What Can I Do,” a cover of a Buddy Ace tune that holds up to the original 1961 version. Pemberton’s super smooth vocals and soulful voice fits in well with the band. His vocals are quite versatile as well, a requirement for a band that zips back and forth between musical genres, sometimes within the same song. Scott fills in with some boogie-woogie piano stylings that sound like early Jerry Lee Lewis in spots. “You Move Me” has a Memphis-soul kind of sound, not unlike classic Al Green or some of the great Stax albums of yore. It’s a song with a deep groove that slowly burns throughout with a delicious horn melody. 

Roomful of Blues shows its sense of humor in “Phone Zombie,” a tongue-in-cheek commentary about people so absorbed in their phones that they “walk into walls.” Vachon fills in the spaces with gritty and distorted licks that made me think of Albert Collins or even early Jeff Beck. Another down-and-dirty blues song is “Carcinoma Blues.” With the horn section blasting, Vachon takes it up a notch, ripping off several biting solos while Pemberton eggs him on. 

Other highlights include “She Quits Me Again,” a beautiful ballad about an on-again, off-again lover. “Too Much Boogie” has a swinging, big-band style, akin to what you might hear from classic Count Basie or Duke Ellington. It features a call-and response between Pemberton and the band and is their tip of the hat to Doc Pomus, who wrote this song. 

In a Roomful of Blues is a solid addition to Roomful of Blues’ catalog, and it is wonderful to have them back. The horn section, one of the best in the business, sounds phenomenal; Vachon and Scott each put down some great solos, and the rhythm section lays down a solid foundation. Roomful of Blues will be touring extensively in support of the new album. 

The band is a must-see live act—a musical powerhouse that gleefully mashes up multiple musical genres while filling up the dance floor. Be sure to catch them when they come to your town.

 

Norman Darwen - Blues & Rhythm 

Those heady days of the ’70s are long gone and these days Roomful Of Blues is a venerable institution, but that does not mean they’re not still making great music – this is the band’s sixth album for Alligator. Relevant too – listen to the lyrics of ‘Watch Your Back’, a summary of today’s ills, or for something perhaps a little more light-hearted but also all too pertinent, ‘Phone Zombies’. The band’s line-up includes sax maestro Rich Lataille (who joined the band in 1970) and guitarist/producer/songwriter Chris Vachon, a relative newcomer who has only been there for a couple of decades or so. On vocals is Phil Pemberton, a mere youngster with only a single decade with the band under his belt. Mind you, he is just what is needed – able to rock out the blues as on the pounding, big-sounding ‘We’d Have A Love Sublime’, sing the blues convincingly on the ’60s Chicago-styled ‘Let The Sleeping Dog Lie’, or come over all maudlin as on the ballad ‘She Quit Me Again’. I confess though, I am a little unsure about the lyrics of ‘Carcinoma Blues’, but that is my only reservation about this set. 

‘She’s Too Much’ is a fine, punchy slab of vintage jazzy rhythm and blues, so you know the band’s trademark big horn sound is still strongly in place, whilst ‘Have You Heard’ has something of a zydeco flavour thanks to the accordion playing of guest Dick Reed. There are a couple of covers too: the opener was originally recorded by Buddy Ace for Don Robey in 1961, and this cover keeps that Duke/Peacock influence, whilst ‘Too Much Boogie’ is a vintage composition from Doc Pomus and a classic Roomful performance. 

So yes, Roomful still has the swagger and the skill. The proof is right here.

 

 Paris-Move, Blues Magazine - Patrick Dallongeville 

Founded in the tiny state of Rhode Island, ROOMFUL OF BLUES has established itself over the years as the flagship of rhythm n ’blues made in the USA. Initially more anchored in the swing-jump of the 40s and 50s than other formations with similar line-ups (like Tower Of Power), this combo prides itself in its time on having accompanied some of its heroes, such as Big Joe Turner, Earl King or Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson. In addition to their inscription in the tradition of historical orchestras like those which Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway and Johnny Otis piloted, ROOMFUL OF BLUES always included a long line of musicians with improbable surnames: the founder Duke Robillard succeeded Rich Lataille, Greg Piccolo, Mark Dufresne and Ronnie Earl Horvath, to the stranglehold on the band of guitarist Chris Vachon, and the arrival of the imposing lead singer Phil Pemberton! Now that the training with the consequent turnover seems stabilized (no less than fifty members have succeeded in half a century), the octet is refocusing, for this twentieth studio album, on a solid rhythm n 'blues perpetuating its distinctive mark. Closer here to the Blues Brothers Band (“What Can I Do?”, “Watch Your Back”) than to Count Basie, the boss’s guitar casually sparks the essential sparks, and while the late Doc’s “Too Much Boogie” Pomus and “I Can't Wait” by saxophonist Alek Razdan happily bring them back to the jump-swing of their debut, one of the Union's most groovy rhythms keeps the audience alert, with the support of an equally unstoppable section of brass. If a few languid ballads (“She Quit me Again”), sticky blues (“Carcinoma Blues”, about skin cancer!) And Louisiana second line (“Let The Sleeping Dog Lie”) certainly dot this washer, dominant slogan remains the boogaloo, as evidenced by the irresistible and restless “She's Too Much”, “Have You Heard” and “We'd Have A Love Sublime”. It is paradoxically (with such a blase), ROOMFUL OF BLUES are not sad!