Swing and Smirk

Roomful of Blues -- The current swing revival must have at least some members of Roomful of Blues smirking. Since 1968 (before many of today's neoswingers were even conceived) the band's ever-revolving lineup has offered its encyclopedic interpretations of blues styles. From jump and swing to searing electric and tear-flowing numbers of regret and longing, a Roomful set is like a primer in the genre, offering a large dose of standards and covers with a few originals thrown in. And though it has over its history featured some names who have since gone on to bigger things (Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl), at least some of the appeal of this big, big band lies in its very anonymity -- the absence of any overwhelming "stars" allows the listener to concentrate more fully on the music. Of course, this also might explain why the band, though a longtime favorite of critics', has never reached more popular appeal. This past year saw a lot of changes in the group, not the least of which was the departure of five members, including beloved lead singer/harpist Sugar Ray Norcia. But the release of the solid There Goes the Neighborhood (Bullseye) with the new lineup does not suffer in comparison as longtime band veterans mix with fresh blood, including new singer Mac Odom, who stakes his presence loud and clear on tracks such as Duke Ellington's "Rocks in My Bed," Memphis Slim's "The Comeback" and his self-penned "Backseat Blues." How to fit this hard-swinging group on the stage of the Mucky Duck should be an interesting challenge of spatial engineering -- making the band literally live up to its name. But if anything, here's an outfit that proves there is strength in numbers. (Bob Ruggiero)

Roomful of Blues plays Thursday, January 7, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Showtimes are 8 p.m. (smoke-free) and 10 p.m. $15. Call 528-5999.


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