Back to the future

By BOB GULLA  |  October 22, 2008

Over the last several decades, Robillard has played with an impressive roster of A-list performers, including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Ruth Brown, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. And he has amassed an astonishing catalog of solo albums, tallying 20 in all. But, after having conversations with Robillard regarding most, if not all of these ventures, Sunny and Her Joy Boys seems to excite him more than any other. “The repertoire came about quickly because there were so many tunes I wanted to do. There are hundreds of songs to pick from, so it was like a gift.”

Accompanying him in that enthusiasm was Crownover herself. “She’s loved all the music I’ve sent her,” says Duke. “It’s almost like a twist of fate that made this thing work. She can interpret this material so effortlessly; she had a love for these songs immediately.”

Recorded in August at Jack Gauthier’s Lakewest Studios, Introducing Sunny and Her Joy Boys echoes the vintage vibe of those decades that Duke so loves. And thanks to Sunny’s pipes, Novick’s fine reeds, and the rest of the band, songs such as “You’re My Thrill” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy” escort listeners back to a time when radio was the dominant medium, the microphoness were shaped like candlepins, and the songs were written in a place called Tin Pan Alley by geniuses named Gershwin, Arlen, and Berlin.

Throughout the recording, Crownover interprets with skill, but ultimately sounds like herself. “She can pick up someone’s phrasing and pick up someone’s sound,” says Duke. “But she has the natural instinct to sound like no one but her.” That in itself is a feat, as she attempts to tackle the nearly inimitable work of singers like the aforementioned heritage artists and poppier voices like Peggy Lee.”

“Believe it or not, it’s all material I’ve never done before,” says Robillard. “I’ve been a fan of female vocalists from the jazz era forever and this is the first time I’ve been able to look back on this material and do it the way it deserves to be done.

And what way is that, Duke? “Louis Armstrong once said, ‘If you don’t know what it is, then you ain’t got it,” he laughs and then pauses. “Honestly, you don’t often come across people that can sing it like this. It’s old music and you just have to have it in your head. At the same time, you have to get everything else out of your head.”

SUNNY AND HER JOY BOYS | Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad Street, Cumberland | October 26 at 8 pm | $15 | 401.725.9272 |

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