Sunday, January 3, 2021

Roy Roberts - Nothin' But The Blues

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got swing, wrote Duke Ellington.  I don’t know if that’s Roy Roberts’ musical motto, but it really should be.  Right from the opening track on Nothin’ But The Blues, the breezy ‘I Got A Gypsy Woman’, we’re in the big band-inflected blues realm of BB King – laid back, warm and, of course, swinging.
A large part of the equation is the use of horns, not as sharp punctuation in the R’n’B fashion, but in rolling waves against which Roberts can bounce his always impressive, understated guitar playing, recalling BB King to a degree, but also his namesake Albert circa Born Under A Bad Sign.
Roy Roberts enjoys some sweet soulful blues
The other factor though is his voice, which inclines towards Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland if without the aching soulfulness, or perhaps Robert Cray without the silky smoothness.  Whatever, his rich, relaxed voice, sometimes with a husky edge, is a perfect fit for the material on this digital compilation.  And let’s face it, if the guy could sing at all, he should have got a good vocal education while working as a sideman to the likes of Solomon Burke and Otis Redding back in the Sixties.
The best songs here tend to be in the sensitive Bobby Bland soul-blues vein, in particular ‘The Next Time’, with its typically well-assembled arrangement, appealing interaction between the horns and Roberts’ guitar in the intro, and a tremulous guitar solo.  ‘Why Didn’t You Come Home’, with its ‘Thrill Is Gone’ vibe, has lush horns ushering in an impressive, tension-and-release guitar intro.  (It’s a reminder too, that for every happy back door man in the blues, there’s another being wounded by a woman coming home after hours, all mussed-up.  Quid pro quo, eh?)  And ‘Your Troubling Mind’ takes on a still more reflective tone, with the horns dialled down a notch to provide subtle, lower pitched remarks, and a sax solo adding a different slant.
With a couple of other songs mining the same seam things could get a bit samey, notwithstanding Roberts’ pin-sharp guitar work on ‘What Should I Do’.  But other tracks provide some healthy variety, notably the more uptempo ‘I Got A Gypsy Woman’, with its skipping rhythm and hints of call and response as it closes, and ‘Just One More Blues Song’, which is more modern in a Cray-like fashion, riding in on a funky bass line and featuring smoky sax fills.  ‘I’m A Real Blues Man’ ditches the horns in favour of piano, but while the piano and organ solos are satisfying, I’m torn as to whether the piano turnaround that arrives every few lines is a rinky-dink novelty or somewhat teeth-grating.  And the set drifts to a close with ‘Have You Seen My Baby’, a simple and upbeat blues that hints at Albert King’s ‘Crosscut Saw’.
‘Dirty Old Man’ just about survives a naff lyric, assisted by guest slots from Skeeter Brandon on organ, and Bob Margolin, who delivers a slippery slide solo.  But ‘I’ll Be Your Plumberman’ isn't so lucky – Roberts’ voice may be smooth and seductive, but it isn’t a good fit for one of the least convincing double entendre blues songs you’ll ever hear.
Nevertheless, if you like the quasi-big band soulful blues of BB King and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Nothin’ But The Blues is an enjoyable collection that should hit your sweet spot fair and square, with on-the-money arrangements and Roy Roberts playing to his strengths vocally and with guitar in hand.  Oh yeah, and don't forget the swing.

Nothin' But The Blues is available as a download from Roy Roberts' website.

1 comment:

  1. While being compared to some of the greatest blues musicians is a complement, the point gets missed that Roy Roberts is a legend himself! So grateful he still shares his heart and soul with us!