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Sunny Crownover – Right Here Right Now

Shining Stone Records

11 songs – 40 minutes

Guitar master Duke Robillard was a guest artist at a seminar at Harvard University in 2007 when he first heard Sunny Crownover sing the Etta James classic “At Last.” He was immediately impressed by her ability to maintain her own relaxed style while maintaining the phrasing that made James such a unique talent. Robillard quickly realized he’d found the artist he’d been seeking for a project he’d been thinking about for years: an album celebrating the jazz stylings of female vocalists from the ’30s to the ’50s. That meeting resulted in the critically acclaimed release 2009 Stony Plains release, Introducing Sunny and her Joy Boys, and her appearance on two more Robillard CDs, the Grammy nominated Stomp! The Blues Tonight and Tales From The Tiki Lounge, Duke’s homage to Les Paul, on which she shares double billing.

This CD is a little Texas roadhouse, a little blue-eyed soul and a little West Side Chicago with a taste of Tin Pan Alley. A Texas native who’s been living in the Boston area for a decade, Sunny is backed by some of the best musicians in the business, including Robillard and his regular working band – the sensational Bruce Bears on keyboards, steady-driving Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira, a 2012 nominee for blues percussionist of the year by Drum! Magazine, on skins. An all-star cast of sidemen add to the mix, including Sugar Ray Norcia on harmonica, Doug James and Mike Tucker on sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Billy Novick on clarinet. And Robillard has proven once again that he’s just as accomplished in the control room as a producer as he is with a six-string in his hands.

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee Gary Nicholson teamed with Robillard to contribute six new tunes for this CD. His works have been recorded by a diverse range of artists, including Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Irma Thomas. Other songs were recruited from former Roomful of Blues bandmate Al Basile and through an appeal made to Duke’s Facebook friends. The album kicks off with Nicholson’s “Oh Yes I Will,” which displays Crownover’s Texas roots, a tune that tells the story of a woman dealing with a controlling man who doesn’t believe she can make it on her own. The minor keyed “One Woman Man,” penned by Brenda Burns, begins with a jazzy riff from Robillard and hard, steady drumbeat. “The first time you’ll learn/Is my love, my love and respect/Must be earned/No more love for free/You gotta do some work/Before you get it from me,” she insists, leaving no doubt.

Crownover and Norcia trade call-and-response between her vocals and his harp on the Chicago-flavored “Love Me Right.” The horn section and a crisp guitar line drives the uptempo “Right Here Right Now.” Norcia returns to drive the down-and-dirty “Roll Me Daddy,” in which Sunny testifies about her man’s prowess in the bedroom. The uptempo “Cook In The Kitchen” carries the message forward: “I want to cook in your kitchen/But I can’t stand the heat,” featuring Bears on the keyboard, whose work dominates the last few cuts on the CD. He contributes the musical lead on “High Heels And Home Cookin’,” which returns Crownover closest to her jazz stylings. The song also features a great clarinet solo by Novick. The mood changes again with the Chicago-flavored “Trust Your Lover” follows, with Duke on slide. A soulful version of Joe Tiven’s “Can’t Let Go” concludes the project.

The debut effort on Robillard’s new Blue Duchess imprint, this totally enjoyable CD firmly launches Crownover into the blues mainstream.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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