This isn’t so much down home as it is upbeat, an empowering set of blues from a singer with jazz chops. There’s a buoying effect throughout Eileen Howard’s Blues in the Green Room.
You’re certain, as she swings through “Stormy Day Blues,” that the sun is going to peek out from behind those clouds at any moment. Recording live at the Garden Theater’s Green Room in Columbus, Ohio, Howard winklingly updates Willie Dixon’s “Built for Comfort,” the familiar Howlin’ Wolf track, with a sing-along moment that makes it clear just how comfortable she thinks everyone should be in their own skin. She offers “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl” with a saucy little coo.
“Black Coffee” ends not with a devastated cry from a jilted lover, but with the heartbroken picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and getting back to living. “He Really Makes It Hard for Me to Sing the Blues,” bolstered by a crisp groove from guitarist David Bennett and saxophonist Randy Mather, skips along like a classic jump-band stomp.
That doesn’t mean Blues in the Green Room is without emotional depth. “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy,” for instance, takes a dark turn with the line: “Everybody’s crying ‘peace on earth,’ just as soon as we win this war.” Howard indulges what clearly is a penchant for straight-ahead jazz on the quietly lonesome “Body and Soul.” And “One For My Baby,” despite a disconcerting early synth flourish, remains one the saddest saloon songs that ever was.
Still, Blues in the Green Room is, more often than not, that rare hope-filled blues recording, one presented with no small amount of can-do enthusiasm. It’s a contagious delight.