Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Rockinghorse (Rhino UK)

Rockinghorse marks a triumphant and stomping return for Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Their first album since 2008, the record is full of variety, from rousing big-band ballads, to cheeky quick steps and, of course, perfect boogie-woogie.

First off, I must admit that I am a huge Jools fan – ever since seeing him perform live some four years ago, I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot for him. Yes, he may appear to walk backwards the majority of the time and bark out his words like an excited terrier but, Michael McIntyre jokes aside, he really is a master of his craft – technically brilliant – and his enthusiasm and love of music is infectious. In a genre that can make it easy for records to come across blasé and “easy listening”-esque, it is this enthusiasm which imbues Rockinghorse with confidence and personality, making it an engaging and fun – yes fun! – listen.

This is helped along by some outstanding guest turns. Michael McDonald gives a smoking performance in ‘I’ve Got News for You’ – my favourite of the album – whilst Alison Moyet turns ‘The Man That Got Away’ from something that could have easily turned out quite cheesy into a passionate and heartfelt ballad, bitterness and regret dripping from every syllable. However, it is Ruby Turner that is the powerhouse of the record – lending her magical vocal talent to three of the strongest songs (‘Roll Out Of This Hole’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘You Are So Beautiful’), fluttering effortlessly over each and every note.

Nevertheless, the album is not without its faults. Although the variation – on the whole – pays off, the incredibly high standard of the majority leaves certain tracks seemingly out of place. ‘London Belongs To Me’ – featuring Essex-duo Chas and Dave – is the most glaringly obvious of these, whilst Rico Rodriguez’s reggae ‘What A Wonderful World’ works well in theory, though isn’t quite pulled off.

Despite the odd blip however, Rockinghorse is a glorious comeback – marked out by the talent of its contributors: the guests, the orchestra and Mr. Holland himself.

Liz Davies