available at dukerobillard.com  
Duke Robillard and Sunny Crownover - "Sway"
and more video from Tales from The Tiki Lounge
Duke Robillard
& Sunny Crownover

hear the samples at dukerobillard.com


Duke Robillard and Sunny Crownover's Tales from the Tiki Lounge is a tribute to the late guitarist and recording genius Les Paul. It's also a delightful express trip to an era when music was blithe, elegant, playful and full of romance.

Its 16 tracks shimmer through a repertoire plucked from the catalog of Paul and his wife, muse and musical foil Mary Ford as well as rarified, eclectic songs that fall into the "exotica category, including the Brazilian choro "Tico Tico" and Mae West's simmering, sensual "Occidental Woman."

While the album - now available at dukerobillard.com - is purposefully retro, its warmth and joy are truly timeless. "I want to transport people to an age when music had beautiful melodies and a genuine feel-good quality, Robillard explains. "The optimistic songs of the Depression and the '50s are full of love and passion. And many of these numbers have lyrics that are clever and playful, as Les' playing often was, too. You can hear that on 'Bye Bye Blues,' where in tribute to Les I play the melody and slide all over the place on the low E string. It's jazz, but more irreverent that anything a conventional jazz guitarist would ever do.

Robillard is a brilliant musician in his own right. His discography includes almost 30 solo albums that explore nearly every aspect of American music - blues, jazz, rock, swing - as well as his influential recordings with the legendary Roomful of Blues, which he founded, and discs with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Ruth Brown. He is also a masterful producer who has made albums for Brown, Jay McShann, Snooky Prior, Joe Louis Walker and other blues luminaries.

So it's not surprising that Robillard was able to reproduce the warm, reverb drenched sweetness of Paul's guitar approach and conjure the depth, sheen and ambiance of his classic recordings with Ford, which are multi-layered marvels of '50s studio technique.

"Even the songs that Les never recorded are produced in his style, Robillard says. "I used different reverbs and delays to get the right vibe and close-miked Sunny's vocals so they're warm and big.

Crownover is as inspiring for Robillard's vision as Ford was for Paul's. Her flexible, clear-toned performances bring every melody to gorgeous, nearly three-dimensional life, from the romantic daydreams of "Smoke Rings to the smoldering fantasia of "Besame Mucho, another entry from the Paul/Ford catalog.

Tales from the Tiki Lounge is Robillard's third 2009 collaboration with Crownover, following Sunny and Her Joy Boys with Duke Robillard and Robillard's Stomp! The Blues Tonight. They began working together after meeting at a Harvard University symposium where both were featured performers.

"Sunny sings and phrases beautifully and naturally, Robillard attests. "I'd been looking for somebody like her to collaborate with for 35 years. She has the same purity as some of my favorite female singers, like Mary Ford and (Duke Ellington band vocalist) Ivie Anderson. Plus, she really enjoys experimenting.

Crownover, who relocated to Robillard's New England turf after years in the Austin, Texas, blues scene, finds the upbeat guitar and studio virtuoso equally inspiring. "Duke has so much energy and such high standards that he constantly motivates me to get inside our music and be my best, she says. "He's filled my head with all kinds of songs from his amazing record collection and is constantly coming up with creative ideas.

Of course, no tribute to Paul would be complete without the guitars that bear his name. So Robillard's two Les Paul Gold Tops, a '56 reissue with P-90 pickups and a '57 reissue with humbuckers, played a vital role in the sessions.

"I wanted to reclaim the sound Les intended these beautiful guitars to make, he says. "A lot of rock players use overdrive and distortion to get sustain using Les Pauls, but Les designed them to have those qualities innately. Their weight and resonance give them a rich horn-like tone and nearly infinite sustain when they're plugged straight into the soundboard.

"But the real beauty of the music of Les' era is that it didn't have an agenda, he continues. "Music driven by politics and green initiatives is important, but so is pure entertainment. When people listen to Tiki Lounge, I'd like them to escape the complications of modern life and, at least for the length of an album, go to a happier place.