Chris James & Patrick Rynn,
Barrelhouse Stomp
(Earwig, 2013)

Chris James and Patrick Rynn bill themselves as a Chicago blues band, that is neo-traditional blues artists in the vein of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and the rest of the guys who migrated from the Delta to Chicago and invented electric blues. Indeed, their songs rely on those giants who came before them. In fact, they do a cover of Muddy's "I Feel So Good," Bo Diddley's "Messin' with White Lightning" and Little Brother Montgomery's "Vicksburg Blues" -- itself a take on Howlin' Wolf. In fact, on most of these songs they use the musicians who played on the original tracks as support.

Which raises a question: when does playing in a tradition become slavishly imitating the elders? As I listen to this album, I hear Elmore James slide guitar, Eddie Shaw sax, Hubert Sumlin-style guitar, Muddy Waters vocals -- everything but originality. I want to ask these guys what they bring to the music that is uniquely theirs. Where are they?

This is a crucial question for the blues because that form, while it has its formulas, excels in revealing the artist's soul. In these guys, I hear echoes of what the old guys did to reveal their souls but I don't come away from it feeling I've gotten any closer to James and Rynn.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

15 February 2014

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