november 2008

Chris James and Patrick Rynn

Veterans of the Blue Four and Rob Stone and the C Notes, and in-demand session players as well, hotshot guitarist/vocalist Chris James and his stellar bass playing buddy Patrick Rynn consolidate nearly two years' of immersion in the blues, Chicago style, into this, their impressive duo debut on record. Working with a dazzling supporting cast of bandmates, James and Rynn blend five of their own well-turned original tunes with seven impeccably chosen covers, four of which are by one of their mutual heroes, Elmore James, which in and of itself says you need to check this out. They tear into James's "Early One Morning" two cuts into this exercise, with Chris James doing his best Elmore James emulation via a howling slide guitar attack, to which he adds a righteously growling vocal as the band stomps thunderously behind him, with piano player David Maxwell giving the 88s a thorough going over, especially with some right hand trills and a rush of cascading notes during his second solo. As ferocious as that James cover is, it's hardly a match for the gale-like force the band unleashes on the man's "Hawaiian Boogie," steered by James's roaring guitar and another driving piano assault, this time by Julien Brunetaud, whose exuberant rocking and rolling is the perfect complement to James's wildly angular, sputtering soloing during the song's heated last minute. The fellows also pay homage to Bo Diddley with a primeval, pulsating foray into "Mona" and time travel even further back for an easygoing romp through the Jay McShann-Walter Brown Kansas City blues classic, "Confessin' the Blues," which features not only a hearty, Clapton-like vocal from James but the added pleasure of rich tenor sax caresses from Carla Brownlee and an easy rolling, evocative piano solo from Brunetaud. All this talk of the great covers isn't meant to discount the strength of the original material here, though-James and Rynn percolate with tongue in cheek on an amiable double-entendre shuffle, "Mister Coffee," an homage to the man "that grinds so fine," with Bob Corritore adding extra flavor with his shimmering harp solos. More impressive still, "Stop and Think About It," one of five tunes featuring Sam Lay (James and Rynn's former employer) on drums, gets away from traditional blues themes in favor of advancing some sound advice to consider one's words before spewing them thoughtlessly. "Won't somebody tell me what is wrong with people these days/well they can't follow good advice/they won't listen to a word you say," James moans with barely disguised impatience before tearing into a screaming solo that mirrors his fevered annoyance with numbnut behavior, as the band stomps behind him, with Corritore rising out of the tumult for another fervent harmonica solo. The closest the duo gets to mellow is on the relatively gentle stomp of Elmore James's "Got to Move," but there's nothing gentle either in Chris's forthright grievance against his unfaithful gal or in the band's ominous pounding behind him. Pedal to the metal and don't let up-it's a winning formula for James and Rynn, who have made a very good year for the blues that much better.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024