A few years back, we told you about a terrific collection of songs from The Knickerbocker All-Stars, a group of mostly New England musicians committed to helping to preserve and carry on the musical tradition of Rhode Island’s famed Knickerbocker Cafe. As we hoped at the time, that wouldn’t be the last we heard from the All-Stars, with the band having now put out its sophomore release in the rich Go Back Home to the Blues (JP Cadillac Records).
Like the first album, this one again includes a rotating cast of vocalists, with return appearances from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones frontman Sugar Ray Norcia, Texas bluesman Willie J. Laws, and Boston’s Brian Templeton (The Radio Kings). Also taking a turn on mic (and cornet) for one song is Al Basile, who also served as the project’s musical director and wrote several of the songs, including the album’s greasy title track.
Sometimes jazzy (like on the opening cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “36-22-36” featuring Norcia on vocals, the snappy instrumental “Hokin'”, and the humorous, Basile-penned and -sung “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Being Right?”), sometimes soulful (such as on the straight-ahead blues of “You Know That You Love Me” [Freddie King] and the band’s take on Guitar Slim’s “Something to Remember You By” [which sounds a lot like Slim’s biggest hit, “The Things I Used to Do”], both delivered by Laws), it’s all swinging, thanks in part to a full horn section made up of members, alumni, and friends of both Roomful of Blues and the Duke Robillard Band, with Roomful co-founder and longtime pianist Al Copley, bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira helping to hold down the rhythm.
The smoky “He Was a Friend of Mine” mixes some Curtis Salgado-like vocals from Laws with some “Hoochie Coochie Man”-ish fills from the horns, with Laws also delivering some sturdy vocals on the high-powered, shuffling closer “I Tried” (Larry Davis) with its monster licks from guitarist Monster Mike Welch (also of Sugar Ray & the Bluetones fame).
Norcia is back on the mic for a swaying “Brand New Fool” that features some nice tinkling of the ivories from Copley along with a powerful horn solo, as well as the swinging good advice of “Take It Like a Man” (Chuck Willis), while Templeton handles vocals on the title track and the slow funk of a Basile original, “Annie Get Your Thing On”, including some Albert King-style riffs from Welch.
The baker’s dozen of tracks also includes another terrific instrumental in the uptempo “Blockbuster Boogie”, making Go Back Home to the Blues both a fine follow-up to the band’s 2014 debut and a great album to go back to, time and time again!