Album Review: Roomful of Blues — In a Roomful of Blues

There are a handful of retro (or, if you prefer, classic-minded) acts that transcend nostalgia, doing something special. They trade in forms that had some great popularity in the past, but they continue, making new music in the style, adding their own personal spin. NRBQ is one. Los Straitjackets are another. And Roomful of Blues belongs in that rarefied category as well.

Like an orchestra, the Chicago (oops) Rhode Island-based ensemble has had a revolving door approach to personnel. More than four dozen players have come and gone, and only saxophonist Rich Lataiile remains form the earliest (1970) lineup. But Roomful of Blues has remained constant. Their first release – from ’77 – was titled Roomful of Blues (it was reissued years later as The First Album). Their latest – something like the band’s 20th studio release – attempts to bring things full circle with the title In a Roomful of Blues.

Longtime guitarist Chris Vachon and singer Phil Pemberton (who came on board a decade ago) lead the band through 13 songs, a set heavy on tasty originals. Ad when the band turns its attention to covers, they dig deep, unearthing shoulda-been-classics. In this case, Don Robey’s “What Can I Do” gets the Roomful treatment. This is a no-nonsense, soulful set long on feeling, long on intensity, and totally absent of artifice. The horn charts are top-notch, the grooves are tight, the solos are memorable. It’s a fun set, one that holds up admirably next to the band’s essential debut.