In commemorating its 30th anniversary as a label, Rounder Records is releasing 30 retrospective albums containing exceptional songs culled from its 3,000-plus albums. One full CD is appropriately devoted to Roomful of Blues, the great Providence-based jump band that's toured the world an average of 200 days per year for 32 years now.
Roomful is an institution in the jump-blues tradition established by such mid-century artists as Big Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris. The nine-piece ensemble is also one of the most versatile blues bands of any era, capable of interpreting big-band swing, rollicking blues, soulful R&B, and pop. Despite numerous lineup changes (including the replacement of five key players in 1999), Roomful always brings enthusiasm, chops and showmanship to its gigs, plus a fantastic horn section. Having heard the current lineup in concert this summer, I can tell you it's as good as any past version of ROB - and that includes groups with Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl and Sugar Ray Norcia.
Happy, Too! is a good retrospective collection, especially for a band that's always sounded better live than on record. But as a Roomful fan from way back, I have a few complaints: First, my favorite ROB album Turn it On! Turn it Up! rates just one tune ("If You Know It"). Second, some staples from the band's live act are missing ("Albi's Boogie," "Marie, Marie"), Third, there are no tracks from Roomful's outstanding studio collaborations with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Earl King or Big Joe Turner. Lastly, no cuts feature original member Duke Robillard. (I admit my last two complaints may be unreasonable. The two albums with Robillard were recorded for another label. The rights to the Vinson and Turner collaborations now belong to 32 Jazz, which compiled them on the 1997 release Two Classic Albums.)
In its favor, the CD opens and closes with two previously unreleased tracks. The opener is a nice version of Bobby "Blue' Bland's "Poverty" performed by versatile singer Mac Odom and the present incarnation of the band, led by guitarist Chris Vachon. The last tune is a jazzy live interpretation of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" with the immortal Big Joe Turner on vocals, recorded in 1982 at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence.
As the premier jump band in the world for more than three decades, Roomful of Blues should rate a box set covering its entire history. Until then, The Blues'll Make You Happy, Too! serves as an OK intro to this legendary ensemble.
Track Listing: Poverty; The Comeback; Just Like Dynamite; I'm Just Your Fool; Standing Here at the Crossroads; If You Know It; Baby, Baby, Baby; She'll Be So Fine; Back on Front Street; He Knows the Rules; Loan A Helping Hand; Jeep's Blues; That's My Life; Shake Rattle and Roll
Personnel: Mac Odom, Curtis Salgado (vocals); Sugar Ray Norcia (vocals, harmonica); Bob Enos, Danny Motta (trumpet); John Wolf, Carl Querforth, Porky Cohen (trombone); Rich Lataille, Greg Piccolo (tenor sax); Kevin May, Doug James (baritone sax); Chris Vachon, Ronnie Earl (guitar); Albert Weissman, Matt McCabe, Al Copley, Ron Levy (piano, organ); Marty Ballou, Ken Grace, Preston Hubbard, Jimmy Wimpfheimer (bass); John Rossi (drums); Big Joe Turner (vocals, 1 track)