Monday, March 22, 2021

Chris Cain - Raisin' Cain

It’s clear, right from the start on ‘Hush Money’, that Chris Cain knows his stuff.  He should do mind you, given that Raisin’ Cain is his fifteenth album.  But still, the bright guitar lick he delivers over a horn backdrop on the intro, and the rich voice he brings to bear on the vocal, tell you that he’s a pro.  It’s a lightly funky tune, with an amusing lyric and a vibe reminiscent of ‘Master Charge’ by one of Cain’s heroes, Albert Collins, and his jazz-inflected solo is an engaging embellishment.  And that pretty much sums up the Chris Cain style – smooth, classy and mature, in a manner descended from BB King, which can’t be bad.
He’s backed up in this endeavour by musicians who know their stuff, too.  So the following ‘You
Chris Cain demonstrates the white man's overbite
Pic by Marilyn Stringer
Won’t Have A Problem When I’m Gone’ confirms those initial impressions as it swings briskly into view with walking bass from Steve Evans and swishing cymbals from Derrick ‘D’Mar’ Martin, to which Greg Rahn adds some rinky-dink piano fills while Cain drops in a perfectly fitted solo.
Indeed Cain’s guitar playing is ear-catching throughout, full of crafty twists and turns on the slower ‘Down On The Ground’, vibrant on ‘I Believe I Got Off Cheap’, and clever again on the jazzy and soulful ‘Found A Way To Make Me Say Goodbye’, on which Greg Rahn underlines the jazz credentials with his Wurlitzer piano turn.  And on the bouncing, uptempo ‘Out Of My Head’ Cain’s fluttering guitar licks, set against sharp flurries of horns over swinging drums and stair-climbing bass, advertise his Robben Ford-like chops.
The Robben Ford reference is telling on the songwriting front though, because Cain’s all-original material feels a bit safe compared to what Ford might produce.  Cain keeps things short and sweet, in and out without messing about, which is fine by me.  But while his lyrics are wry and well-assembled, the subject matter sometimes feels overly familiar, lacking the freshness that someone like fellow Alligator artist Toronzo Cannon brings to proceedings.
Still, ‘Can’t Find A Good Reason’ captures a Robert Cray-like mood of romantic disappointment well, with a slow, lyrical opening, and patient soloing that shifts pace beautifully.  This is one song where stretching out at greater length could really have been worthwhile.  But Cain sings it with feeling, evoking those BB King influences.  Meanwhile ‘Born To Play’, a simple enough song when you get right down to it, manages to pack a lot into its three-and-a-bit minutes. Warm horns and slinky bass lay down the foundations, and Cain pings guitar notes around over the top like he’s enjoying a game of Space Invaders.  (Younger readers – ask your parents.)
Speaking of space, the closing ‘Space Force’ is a real headscratcher of a selection.  An instrumental on which Cain decides to amuse himself with an ARP synthesizer, it sounds like it belongs on a whole other album.  But in so far as it’s still entertaining, it’s thanks to Evans’ funky, squelchy bass, and spots of clavinet from Cain and melodica from producer Kid Andersen, rather than the featured synth.
But leaving that oddity to one side, Raisin’ Cain is a polished collection of old school blues, given added zest by Cain’s citrus-sharp guitar playing.   Expect the unexpected, as the saying goes, because Chris Cain pulls out plenty of licks that deliver just that.
Raisin’ Cain is released by Alligator Records on 9 April.

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