Friday, July 2, 2010

Chris Duarte Group / John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (1997)

(As published in Offbeat ... )

Chris Duarte Group
Tailspin Headwhack

John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
Blues for the Lost Days

A guy I know who used to do sound for Chris Duarte once confided to me that the only thing keeping Duarte from a record deal was his singing. "Even Stevie Ray Vaughan," he said, "wouldn't have succeeded if he hadn't been able to sing." Well, Duarte now has a record deal, but as a singer he still just gets by. Constricted and gravelly, his voice will no doubt remain unsought after for duet purposes. His guitar, however, and the band it rides in on grow greasier, funkier, and boogier. The meanly careening instrumental "Drivin' South" deserves to accompany a beer commercial or a high-speed chase scene, the not-bad cover of the Meters' "People Say" makes up for the not-great cover of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," and "Cleopatra" (the album's lead track and wisely chosen first single) belongs right between "Walk like an Egyptian" and "King Tut" on the Pyramid Power mix tape I'm going to make someday.

The charm of John Mayall's Blues for the Lost Days lies in the opposite direction. Loose and relaxed where Duarte is tight and intense, Mayall and his current crop of BBs lock into an easy-going groove that stops just short of lassitude with the the help of four wake-up-call covers ("How Can You Live like That," "It Ain't Safe," "Some Other Day," "Sen-Say-Shun"). Easiest going of all is Mayall's sixty-something voice, a warm. slurry tenor that will be the envy of Boz Scaggs in a few years. The only question mark is "All Those Heroes"--why compose a tribute to old blues guys, and a clumsy one at that, when you're an old blues guy yourself?

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