Sunday, November 15, 2009

25 Years of Chicago Blues Piano – Vol. 5 reviewed by Mark Thompson

25 Years of Chicago Blues Piano – Vol. 5
Barrelhouse Chuck
Viola Records
15 tracks/51:12

Chuck Goering has been playing blues piano for over thirty years. He studied with piano legends like Sunnyland Slim, Detroit Junior and Little Brother Montgomery. Not only did Chuck learn from these giants but he also cared for them, took them to gigs and at times lived with them. His devotion to the piano tradition and his skill at the keyboards has earned him the ranking as one of the top blues piano players in the world.

The latest disc in his series featuring unreleased material shows the extent of Chuck’s talent that shines through in a variety of settings. Five tracks find Chuck backed by Trickbag, a Swedish band. The opening cut is an Earl Hooker instrumental, “Hot & Heavy”, with Chuck wailing away on organ. The band shows they are adept at Chicago-style blues on “She’s Got a Thing Going On”, with a strong vocal and dynamic piano work from Chuck. “Barking Mood” is another instrumental featuring the band’s harp player, Joakim Barcheus. Chuck shines with one dazzling piano run after another. The best track of their collaboration is the Goering original, “New Farewell to S.P.Leary”. Chuck’s mournful vocal on the slow blues shares the spotlight with his compelling keyboard efforts.

The remaining tracks feature a who’s-who of the Chicago blues scene. “Everybody’s Talking” has Big Smokey Smothers laying down a stirring vocal and some taut slide guitar. Guitarist Billy Flynn is on fire on a live take of “Billy’s Guitar Boogie” that has the late Willie Kent on bass. Another highlight is “This Little Voice” with Curtis Salgado contributing a soulful vocal over a loping rhythm punctuated by the guitar of Nick Moss.
Chuck includes a rousing cover of Detroit Junior’s “Call My Job” with Muddy Water’s old rhythm section of Calvin Jones on bass and Willie Smith on drums.

The instrumental “Blues for Hubert” offers a change of pace as Sam Buckhardt’s sax is front and center but Chuck gets a chance to stretch out a bit. Steve Freund adds some fine guitar. Goering rocks the house on “How Much More Longer”, shouting out his vocal over support from Sam Lay on drums and Frank Bandy on bass. “Lazy Dog Blues” switches to the acoustic format with Ben Andrews on guitar and vocal. The humorous tune illustrates Chuck’s skill as an accompanist. The final track is simply listed as “Bonus Track” and has Buddy Guy on guitar and vocal burning his way through “Forty Days & Forty Nights” with Chuck’s piano matching Guy’s efforts.

The set holds together quite well in spite of the rotating cast of musicians and the various recording locations. The sound quality is good throughout the disc. It clearly shows that Barrelhouse Chuck is a special musician who can maintain a high level of performance in any setting. You should check this one out – and then be prepared to spend some money on the other four volumes in this important series documenting the Chicago blues tradition.

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