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Music Review: Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Gonna Boogie Anyway

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The blues might be a relatively formulaic genre, but the dynamic duo of Chris James (guitars and vocals) and bassist Patrick Rynn prove there’s lots of life left with their sophomore outing, the aptly titled Gonna Boogie Anyway.

Indeed, the title might well serve as a defiant declaration to those who say the blues are a tired and used-up musical form. James and Rynn, augmented by a who’s who of Chicago blues royalty, deliver an energetic romp of a disc steeped in tradition that nonetheless oozes energetic exuberance. The medium might be classic, but the message has a visceral immediacy that leaves no doubt – this stuff is both natural and necessary.

Things kick off with the original “Money Don’t Like Me,” a wry look at finance that many can identify with; the track is so rhythmically strong it reappears as an instrumental later in the disc. Elsewhere the playlist mixes well-chosen covers (Robert Jr. Lockwood’s “Black Spider Blues,” Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand To See You Go,” and a pair by Bo Diddley, including a killer take on “Dearest Darlin’”) with carefully crafted originals that manage to sound classic without being derivative.

Rynn is a strong guitarist, and this outing features more emphasis on his fretwork than on their debut, 2008’s Stop And Think About It. Guests this time out include piano legend Henry Gray as well as keyboard ace Dave Maxwell.  Labelmate Rob Stone (Rynn and James provide backing on his own recent release) and Bob Corritore contribute harmonica on a pair each. And there’s a fine horn section on a handful, with Johnny Viau and Alan Ortiz on saxophones. Drum duties are shared by Willie Hayes, Eddie Kobek, and the shuffle master himself, Sam Lay.

But the supporting cast is just that, staying primarily in the background, with solos succinct and to-the-point. Indeed, James and Rynn are just fine on their own; two tracks are duets, while a third adds Maxwell’s piano and a fourth Stone’s acoustic harp.. James handles all vocals, and while he may not win any awards, he acquits himself admirably, his voice gruff enough to be convincing without seeming to try too hard.

Everything here is squarely within twelve-bar convention, so there aren’t really any musical surprises (though “Dearest Darling” is a bit of a seldom-heard left-field choice). Shuffles and stomps dominate – check out the controlled fury of “H.M. Stomp” or the irresistible beat that drives the title track – though the boys dig deep indeed for “You Can’t Trust Nobody” and “The Tables Have Turned,” both straightforward blues tunes with the requisite hint of menace. It’s classic stuff, played with abandon tempered with taste, rollicking and real.

Material as soaked in time-honored tradition as this can all too easily sound stale and uninspired. James and Rynn show just how timeless it can be, though, when the feel – that most intangible yet important of ingredients – is right.

This one’s got feel – joyous, exuberant, and blue through and through – in every groove. Great stuff!

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