Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Barrelhouse Stomp Reviewed by Steve Jones

Barrelhouse Stomp
Chris James and Patrick Rynn
Earwig Music Company
12 tracks
Partners in the blues for over 20 years, guitarist/vocalist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn wear their love for traditional Chicago Blues on their sleeve. After all, the duo first teamed up in the Windy City, and went on to back local harp player/band leader Rob Stone in his blues band, the C-Notes, before going off as a duet. All three ex-Chicagoans have since relocated to Southern California. They may have left the snow and cold behind, but they took the city’s music with them.
This is Chris and Patrick’s third Earwig release and, like the first two, it is an outstanding album!  In order to avoid re-making the same type of CD repeatedly, the songwriting partners have changed a few things in the studio this time. In keeping with the title theme they have added some spectacular piano players in this “barrelhouse” effort, and it comes from three different acclaimed artists: Henry Gray (still feisty at age 88), Aaron Moore (who just passed away on Nov. 27, 2013 at age 95) and, for over half the tracks, David Maxwell who has won awards for his Otis Spann-worthy piano work.  The result is a fantastic album that will win them many new fans while extending their relationship with existing fans.
Also appearing on tenor saxophone are a trio of superb horn men: Eddie Shaw, Johnny Viau and Norbert W. Johnson. Willie Hayes does most of the drumming; Eddie Kobek also appears on three tracks and the inimitable Wilie “Big Eyes” Smith also appears on a couple of cuts.  Chris’ and Patrick’s buddy Rob Stone appears on harp for a couple of tracks and Jody Williams adds his guitar on four songs.  Stone also helped out in penning seven of the tracks with the featured duo.   James sings on all cuts (except of course the instrumentals) and plays lead on most tracks and adds harp on another.  Rynn is the bassist for all of the cuts.
The opening cut features Stone on harp and Maxwell on the piano.  “Goodbye, Later for You” grabs the listener and gets the dance party started.  It is quite the swinging number with some wicked guitar work by James, and Maxwell’s piano adds a great layer of bounce and fun.  Stone’s harp is also solid and James vocal s really sold me (as they always do).  “Just Another Kick in the Teeth” follows and all three horn players are there to help make a statement while Williams takes the guitar lead and Maxwell is on piano.  The horn work is great, Maxwell tinkles the keys sweetly and Williams picks out a great solo.  Rynn provides a cool bass solo while the sax players fill in, and then it’s Shaws’ turn to impress.  Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good” is next; Smith is on drums here with Viau offering up some really dirty horn work.  Moore is featured on the keys and he stridently fills in well.  James vocals are emphatic and grab at you to listen for more.  Nice work!  “Messin’ With White Lightnin’” is a sweet little an instrumental with Maxwell filling in around James’ distinctively impressive guitar; he also offers up a poignant piano solo.  Hayes gives the cymbals a real workout as he keeps up a frenetic beat as the boy’s blast out a great barrelhouse cut.  I loved this track- it really gets the juices flowing!
On “Before It’s Too Late” we have Moore’s other piano effort and Smith’s other appearance on drums.  James again offers up convincing vocals as Moore is emphatic on his piano work to help make the point- the piano solo here is top notch! Slide guitar, the dual horns of Viau and Johnson, and Henry Gray beating out the piano line make “A Fact is a Fact” a track that is hot as hell.  James burns up the strings and the band is in full swing here.  James adds some harp for us on “It Can Always Be Worse” where he tells us how we can always find someone far less  blessed than we are.  Straight up blues, a very fun cut. On “I’m Gonna Stop Foolin’ Myself” we have James telling us he needs a switch in relationships.  The two horns and Maxwell’s piano drive this one nicely as do James’ vocals and guitar.
“Vicksburg Blues” is a great old cut which features Eddie Shaw, Rob Stone and Jody Williams.  Slow blues with real depth and effect here- another winner!  “Bobby’s Rock” brings Henry Gray back for this Elmore James instrumental.  The guitar is featured with the horns and piano in support.  Chris unleashes the slide about a minute into this and it is a thing of beauty.  While this is a guitar centered piece, the horns and piano really keep up with James and make it special!  The band swings with “Take It Easy” as they pay homage to Pinetop Perkins.  Maxwell lays it all out on piano as they swing through this in a wild but controlled manner.  The piano gets all the big solos and they are very sweetly done.  The album concludes with “Last Call Woogie”; Henry Gray is featured on this new cut that sends us off in style.  James screams and growls and he and Gray trade off solos.  Another great little cut!
What are my favorites here?  Everything!  This is a beautiful mix of covers and new music and I enjoyed it all from top to bottom.  James and Rynn know their stuff and are totally in synch.  The supporting cast they have assembled works well with them and vice versa- they all checked their egos at the door and worked in total synch.  I truly enjoyed this CD and would rank it near the top for blues albums for 2013.  I’m a sucker for great piano in my blues and Aaron Moore, Henry Gray, and David Maxwell deliver the goods as do James and Rynn and the rest of the cast here.  Most highly recommended!!!

Reviewed by Steve Jones


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