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Chaz DePaolo - Bluestopia

Rojer Records

9 tracks Total time: 38:36

New Jersey blues guitarist Chaz DePaolo has an impressive and extensive vita—top shows and festivals in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and opening for artists such as Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin and Commander Cody. So one would naturally expect impressive guitar picking on Bluestopia, and one gets it amply on this short, nine-track CD that is considerably shorter than most CDs released now. (A demonstration that good things come in little packages?) His single-string electric picking is elegant and tasty, and he adds just enough short, occasional bursts of elaborate technique that keep it interesting; yet he never gets carried away with the flash. The late 1960s produced an ample supply of extremely able rock and blues-rock guitarists that seminally influenced the younger guitarists that came around, and DePaolo incorporated the influences from these masters well.

Chaz DePaolo is also an able vocalist who uses his crying lower-range tenor voice to strong effect, and a solid songwriter who wrote solo five of the nine songs on the CD, four vocals and a longish instrumental final track, “Slideadelica,” as well as co-writing track 7, the vocal “Baby I’m So Lonely,” with K. Comer-Harris. DePaolo’s lyrics use effectively the elemental wording and repetition with permutation that is at the heart of the traditional blues approach.

Musically, Bluestopia leavens the blues with East Coast rock and jazz influences, with jazz mixed with blues amply demonstrated by saxophonist Robert Chaseman, who infuses blues/R&B sax with the atonalities and virtuoso techniques of modern jazz. He is a most able second soloist who is an adept accompanist as well, and his brass reed instrumentalism is featured on eight of the nine tracks here. Chaseman plays tenor sax on seven of these tracks, and soprano sax on track 6, “Pearly Gates.” Muddy Waters Blues Band alumnus David Maxwell is another regular presence, playing accompanying piano on four tracks. Rounding out the band are Cliff McComas, drums on all tracks, and bassists Mike Santoro, who plays on six tracks; John Bongiovani, on two tracks; and Lou DeMartino on one.

Also featured on Bluestopia are guest musicians Dave Lewis on Hammond B3 organ, accompanying on track 2, “You Know My Baby,” and accompanying with a solo on “Baby I’m So Lonely,” where he is joined by Tom Reese on solo flute. Bob Platt plays the B3 on “Slideadelica;” Eddie Jackson adds bongos emphasis on track 8, “It’s Not You It’s Me;” and Kirk Reese delivers a modern jazz-influenced piano solo on Bluestopia’s second instrumental, track 4, “Look At That Girl.” Rounding out the guest musician list is Electro Groove Records harp ace Jason Ricci, who delivers an amplified harp solo on “Slideadelcia” with note switching that is, in Johnny Cash’s memorable words, “faster than kiss a duck.”

Two DePaolo originals, track 6’s “Pearly Gates” and the instrumental showcase “Slideadelica,” are slide guitar numbers based on traditional Delta blues sounds: DePaolo plays traditional acoustic slide on “Pearly Gates,” a citified country blues that adds bass, drums and sax;” and elaborate electric slide unadorned and adorned with wah-wah effect on “Slideadelica.” His original, track 7’s “It’s Not You It’s Me” is a rocking rhumba, while the other instrumental on the CD (which is an instrumental, even though credits list DePaolo on vocals), “Look At That Girl,” is a jump number based on 1940s and 1950s jazz that has an early 1950s R&B sound as well, notably because of Robert Chaseman’s repetition of the melody line in a sax-riffing manner. The DePaolo original, track 3’s “Woman in a Black Dress,” is an ominous slow blues that pays tribute to lust. Two songs come from classic bluesmen—Albert King’s “Down So Long” that opens the CD, and Roscoe Gordon’s 1952 signature song, “No More Doggin’,” track 5, which is arranged as a vigorous rock number. Tracks 2 and 7, the DePaolo original, “You Know My Baby,” and his co-written “Baby I’m So Lonely,” respectively, are up-tempo vocal numbers with a strong 1960s and 1970s rock feel.

All this comes together to make Bluestopia a felicitous mixture of traditional and contemporary styles that effectively combine blues and blues-rock with East Coast R&B, rock and jazz. Just call Bluestopia a utopia of contemporary blues!

NOTE: This review is an extended version of one that originally appeared in my July 26, 2009 “Blues and More” column for the Bloomington (IN) Alternative.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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