Meet the new boss: guitarist Duke Robillard, heading up his own record label after distinguishing himself on numerous others. It’s likely to be a good career move, at least artistically, judging from this playful, soulful and swinging mix of original tunes and pop classics.
Longtime fans won’t find many surprises, but there are some appealing twists, beginning with the album’s aptly named title track. An out-of-kilter guitar novelty, it’s the opening cut and the first hint at some of the more engaging performances to come—for instance, the funky boogaloo arrangement of “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” complete with guitar chordal stabs that suggest the presence of a B3 organist.
As you might expect of an artist free to call the shots, Robillard spends much of his time here playing personal favorites. But there’s nothing self-indulgent about these performances, nothing tiresomely flashy or longwinded. The ballads are particularly enjoyable, since “If I Had You” and other romantic musings clearly inspire Robillard’s soulful lyricism. Bassist Brad Hallen and drummer Mark Teixeira consistently provide neatly tailored support.
Another plus is guest vocalist Mickey Freeman, who turns in a sultry cameo on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You.” Robillard deftly sets the mood, however, before adding complementary fills and a succinct solo. Otherwise the trio is on its own, celebrating Ellingtonia with a sleek and sly arrangement of “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” vibrantly revisiting “Indiana,” and capping the session with the T-Bone Walker-evoking “Jesse’s Blues,” one of four Robillard compositions.