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Chris James & Patrick Rynn – “Stop and Think About It”

Earwig Music

Hearing Chris James’ and Patrick Rynn’s first solo release on Earwig, I can’t help thinking of James Hunter. Not because they play 50’s R&B like Hunter, pretty far from it - these cats are very proud guardians of the post-war Chicago blues sound, and you’ll know it in every 12-bar tune, I-IV-V progression, dirty harp solo and Elmore James-influenced guitar on this disc.

One common denominator is James’ voice – as smooth, relaxed and engaging as the chart-topping Englishman’s, and really jumping out on this disc. Both are also fine guitar players, maybe not extremely original and inventive, but with killer tone, great taste and impeccable song instincts. Finally, both are fairly young, but couldn’t care less about current music trends. James’ and fellow bass player Rynn’s love for the 1950’s Chicago Southside era has resulted in a very consistent album that shouldn’t have any problem finding its target audience in our info-overloaded Internet era.

The song list consists of several Elmore James covers and the duo’s own originals that sound like they’d belong on any Windy City classic. The lyrics portray classic blues characters like seductive little schoolgirls and the “grinding expert” Mr. Coffee. In terms of arrangements and recording, these are equally true to the era, and the guys did a great job producing the album themselves. To top it all off, the black and white cover shot portrays the duo in dapper shirts, knitted vests and caps, proudly exclaiming “BLUES” to potential young fans, who may have heard of this music through indie rockers like The White Stripes and The Black Keys.
So with such a distinctive vibe and great presentation, why shouldn’t these guys have the potential to become a hit at every Starbucks in the country… like James Hunter?

James and Ryan are no newbies on the scene: some of you might know them as part of The Blue Four, who have played countless festivals and toured across the U.S., Europe and Japan. They’ve recorded for labels like Earwig, Evidence, Hightone, Ice House, Marquis, Appaloosa and Magnum, and they were also featured in Martin Scorcese’s PBS-series “The Blues.” Guests on the CD include  Sam Lay on drums, Bob Corritore on harmonica, and Johnny Rapp taking second guitar for a few tracks.

Personally, I found this disc to be a really enjoyable and inspired experience while I was in the act of listening to it. James, Rynn and their guest musicians instantly took me to the classic Chicago sound and kept me in this bubble, oblivious to my native Los Angeles freeways and palm trees. But I’m not craving to go back to it; the songs don’t continue to play in my head – except the excellent title track “Stop and Think About It.” With its simple, yet catchy, hook, this song is perfect for James’ voice, and should be a hit among British kids who fancy Duffy, Amy Winehouse and Hunter if there’s any justice in this world. As a restless child of these times, I prefer albums that are a little more varied. But this is an inspired and genuine record for lovers of pure Chicago blues. I wouldn’t consider it essential for your blues library, but well worth lending an ear to.

Reviewer Nikki O’Neill is a singer, songwriter and guitar player in Los Angeles. She fronts the Nikki O’Neill Band – a soul, r&b and rock band.  She's included in Sue Foley’s upcoming book “Guitar Woman,” featuring a who’s-who list of great players like Bonnie Raitt, Ana Popovic, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Jennifer Batten, and more.

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