Roomful Of Blues have finally gotten around to making another live album, their third, and 45 Live was certainly worth the wait. Singer Philip Pemberton is the most perfect match for this band at it current incarnation and his three years with the band has given him plenty of time to sharp his voice among this mix of jump, swing, and big band blues music. The musicianship is as sharp as ever. Chris Vachon nails those soul drenched guitar phrases while the three piece horn section gives each song its own blaring wall of sound, with horn shots, swells, and rollicking melody lines packing a wallop at every turn. Rusty Scott’s piano tinkling and organ swells are rich with true roots knowledge and the rhythm section continuously rock it with every approach from swagger to suggestive grooves to jazzy rides.
Recorded at The Ocean Mist in Matunuck, Rhode Island, 45 Live is the sound of a great band playing to a greatly appreciative audience. Opening with “Just Keep on Rockin’” Roomful meet their audience head on with the horns blaring, the groove jumping, and Pemberton applying his smooth, rangy soft timbre to those open spaces in the musical swells. The horn swells and saxophone melody here are rich and expressive while Pemberton holds his own against the raging sound with his belty exuberance.
Roomful continue in a mischievous groove on “It All Went Down The Drain.” The rhythm section makes you feel that something bad went down even before Pemberton begins foreshadowing by summoning up a couples’ good times. A burbling bari sax makes its sly appearance by riding along the groove lines and grabbing the ears with its rich tone. The rest of the horn section pump out a jungle growth of melody until Vachon takes over with his incise, simmering guitar phrase. The guitar man presses out those daring notes with the greatest of ease, giving them the kind of flow associated with horn melodies. Pemberton, too, is golden as he struts his vocal magic around this tune’s very danceable beat.
Roomful take the listener down to New Orleans with “Jambalaya,” a tune dripping with Big Easy flavorings. Rusty Scott tinkles out a barrelhouse flavored piano line as the horn section play bright, sunny melody lines that either snake around the beat or tap dance with a high melody like 1920s’ jazz. Rich Lataille creates a true sense of motion with his brittle, easeful melody line and that makes a listener feel the overwhelming joy of walking down St. Charles Avenue.
“Easy Baby” feels a little more like vintage blues. Vachon coaxes some easy going lines out of his guitar while Pemberton emotes with emotional swagger. The rhythm section keeps a masculine groove coursing through the tune and holds up dark explosive horn blares. Things quiet down to let Vachon showcase a brittle, winding piece of guitar magic. Each note he picks, bends, sustains flows into one sensual smoky phrase. He moves from simmering to boiling hot as he goes along, putting more heart and soul into each nuance he injects. Pemberton’s voice hits some nice falsettos and you can picture him at his microphone going from subtle croon to a louder dynamic on the close out.
Title track “That’s Right” from the Roomful vaults has a jumping oldies feeling number that makes you want to jitterbug to its bright horn section and speedy beat. Drummer Chris Rivelli keeps this one bopping forward with a pulpy steadiness. Impressively, the horn section and vocalist perform speedily without missing a beat or losing their breath. An incredible sense of motion is conjured in this one, built on tight ensemble work and boundless energy. Pemberton’s bluesy rasp suits this song to a t, making it feel rooted in its time period.
Rusty Scott tinkles fancifully his way into “Crawdad Hole,” a song Roomful recorded with Big Joe Turner back in the day. Each player gets a nice turn to shine here. Pemberton belts it with bluesy, worldly authority. Vachon presses out a tasteful guitar line. The horn section thin out their lines to form brittle waves of sound. The piano is juicily barroom honky tonk. The rhythm section pump out an alluring groove underneath it all. Here, it’s the number of snappy things each instrumentalist is doing, almost at the same time, that make this so much fun, the listener getting a truck full from Roomful.
“You Don’t Know” has the coolest, nimblest groove on this live album. Its springy danceable step pull the listener in like nobody’s business. Vachon pays out a snappy guitar line that winds its way mercilessly through the waves of horn shots and over the piano. Roomful also bring out of the closet their old title track “Dressed Up To Get Messed Up.” Pemberton applies his classy belt to this swinging blues with its hip lyrical rhyme scheme. You can picture nappy dressers in zoot suits or three piece silk suits strutting their stuff in an old fashioned dance hall. Harmony vocals and finger snaps add to the old time charm of this fine dandy.
Instrumental piece “Straight Jacquet” from Roomful’s 2005 album Standing Room Only is a heartfelt tribute to Illinois Jacquet, widely considered the world’s first R&B saxophonist who initially sprang from the jazz scene in the early 20th century. Each Roomful horn player here takes his sweet time unfurling a deliciously smoky melody line, and when the three play together it’s a seamless, warm blanket of sound. The Roomful shadings make a pleasant interpretation of the variety of styles that get mixed into this complex but moving tribute. You cannot help but feel Mr. Jacquet’s presence in the genre he helped originate.
“I Left My Baby” swaggers its way in with a bulbous, swinging horn line. From there, the moody horns and piano make the perfect backdrop to Pemberton’s soulful and sorrowful croon. The singer milks his vocal melody for all of the expression its worth. The groove keeps the song rooted in contemplative blues by recycling back onto itself. It gives the dramatic sensation of a man stuck in a rut as he bemoans his fate. Zinging bluesy piano lines ride alongside that ebullient horn section to conjure another layer of insight into the singer’s story. Pemberton’s mournful belt finds a perfect home in all of the tragic nuances playing out around him.
“Blue, Blue World” gives Rusty Scott a chance to highlight his jazzy organ strides. Scott holds and sustains some of those beautiful chords to create a smoky atmosphere. Even when the other fellows strut their stuff around him, Scott remains focal with his steady, pronouncements of rich chords. “Somebody’s Got To Go” is a down tempo contemplation of sending a friend off to fend for himself after turning out to be a lousy roommate. A saxophone takes a jazzy stroll along the groove line and you can picture someone feeling a lot better as he watches an old pain in the neck walking away.
Roomful get a little more into down and dirty R&B territory with “Turn It On, Turn It up.” Jazzy organ lines and ebullient horn shots punctuate this frisky, danceable number. Vachon pierces the sounds cape with his tasteful licks as Pemberton unleashes his belty rasp, sustaining those soulful vocal notes with his noted style. This one will motivate the feet to move and the booty to shake. For sure.
The Roomful boys close out their live album with “Flip Flap Jack,” a fun, over the top mash up of instrumental flash and vocal heights. Finishing things up with the same swinging party vibe they began with, Roomful will likely have their fans singing and dancing to this never ending, swirling motion of sound.
45 Live, Roomful’s third live album, will surely go down in history as one of their best recordings ever. It contains 14 of their most memorable, best written compositions performed in front of a warm, receptive live audience. They also have their best vocal match in years with Pemberton, who just happens to fit well onto what the players have evolved into at this time. For a reminder of what Roomful can do live and for a wrap of their best songs, fans should buy this album right away.