Chris Beard,
Live Wire
(NorthernBlues, 2005)

"Please welcome to the stage, from Rochester, New York, prince of the blues, Chris Beard."

Chris Beard, the son of guitarist Joe Beard, has been steeped in the blues his entire life, learning his chops from such illustrious family friends as Matt "Guitar" Murphy and Buddy Guy. And now, some 40 years after his father first took his guitar on stage, Chris Beard has turned out Live Wire, a mostly live recording augmented by a half-dozen studio tracks.

Unfortunately, Live Wire is an album of rather unexceptional electric blues driven by the sort of guitar pyrotechnics that may work reasonably well in a packed club but don't readily translate to disc. Certainly the 9-minute opening track, "Born to Play the Blues," is way, way, way too long. But rather than deciding to stage a live show that balances the tightness needed for a recording with the looseness a live show requires, Beard has attempted to "fix it in the mix." The editing and mixing are frequently substandard, however, with readily apparent dips in the audio in order to tighten up what even Beard himself, wearing his producer's hat, must have realized were overly lengthy guitar excursions.

We're presented with more than 8 minutes of "It's Over -- Part 1" and then, in what really ought to have been called, "It's Not Over Yet," Beard sings out that he's broken a string and will have to change guitars before he can launch into another 4-plus minutes of the song. But wait, "It's Still Not Over." There's another edit in the audio and we get two and a half minutes of bass solo that fades out just as the player is being credited, a bizarre and terribly self-indulgent sort-of-finale to the "It's Over -- Parts 1, 2 & 3" musical marathon.

Then, suddenly, we retreat to the recording studio for the remaining six tracks on the album. Here the energy Beard can wring from his six-string remains intact while the belabored solos are shunted out the back door. Still, only a couple of the tracks featured in the back half of Live Wire manage to distinguish themselves. "Never Felt No Blues," penned by Dennis Walker, is a powerfully delivered hard-luck tale that showcases the tight ensemble playing Beard's band is capable of delivering as a bed to his guitar and vocal performances. The interplay between guitar and horns on "Who You Can Trust" works quite well, though the vocals are missing much of the power evident in the earlier live tracks. And Luther Allison's "A Change Must Come" requires a more passionate vocal treatment and a more subtle and expressive guitar break.

On the whole, the split-personality of this live/studio release serves primarily to highlight the weaknesses Beard faces in each setting. Recording all the tracks live while trimming 20 or 30 minutes from the nearly hour and a quarter length of Live Wire might have left him with a sleeker album full of vitality and raw energy. Instead we're presented with guitar solo after guitar solo, after sax solo, after bass solo, after yet another guitar solo, plus some studio stuff. It all adds up to a whole that is much less than the sum of its parts.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
23 September 2006

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