Monday, April 10, 2023

Chris Duarte - Ain't Giving Up

Well now, what have we here?  Apparently this is the fifteenth album by Chris Duarte, and it seems his second album Texas Sugar Strat Magik was a big seller way back in 1994.  All of which is news to me, I hafta say.  And it really doesn’t matter, because what I do know is that Ain't Giving Up is a belter of an album.
Duarte sets out his stall right from the start with ‘Nobody But You’, which starts off muffled, then explodes into a cacophony of distorted vocals, warped guitar, thudding bass, and snapping drums.  Well, I say drums, but while Brannen Temple does a great job bashing the skins, Duarte
Chris Duarte paints technicolour blues
Pic by Jim Argobast
and his producer Dennis Herring also make bold use of a rhythm machine to add extra snap, crackle and pop to several tracks.  Now, that may be anathema to some blues fans, but to these ears it works a treat.  The end result sounds like Texas blues colliding with Ugly Kid Joe’s ‘Everything About You’.  Or something.  Whatever, it's a zinger that sets the standard that the whole album lives up to.
That rhythm machine clickety-clack also enlivens ‘Bye Bye Bye’, which chugs along merrily in any case, with a ‘Route 66’ vibe and a hint of rockabilly to its appealing melody, with Duarte’s voice enhanced by some neat backing vocals.  It’s short and sweet, with witty lyrics and a rock’n’rollin’ guitar solo.  The formula of rhythm machine and distorted vocal also hits the spot on ‘Come My Way’, enhanced by some scratchy, inside out guitar contortions from Duarte on his closing solo.  None of this really sounds like ZZ Top, but in its own way it evokes the head-turning freshness that the Tres Hombres dispensed on Eliminator.
Duarte emerged in Austin, Texas in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and some comparisons are justified when you listen to his guitar style on the mid-tempo blues instrumental ‘Can Opener’, with the bass and drums shifting and drifting now and then to give things a lift.  And there are nimble, SRV-like guitar breaks on ‘Ain’t Giving Up On Us’ too, over a boom-clack rhythm and slow, booming bass, though the song is maybe a tad slight compared to most of the 12 on offer.
And really, the songs here are a pleasure.  ‘Half As Good As Two’ is a typically simple but on the money affair, with a funny lyric about how the hero will “never find a woman half as good as two”, and a wry Texas blues sensibility that somehow puts me in mind of Rosie Flores, while Duarte’s solo is full of wit – patient and then scurrying all over the place.  And ‘Look What U Made Me Do’ is a sweet rock’n’roll confection, with a tick-tock rhythm overlaying the drums, which occasionally break free to rev things up in tandem with the rolling bass, while Duarte sparkles and scintillates over the top.
‘The Real Low Down’ throws something different into the mix in sparsely twitchy-funky fashion, with the bass bouncing off the drum pattern, while Duarte adds a zippy, citrus smart guitar outro.  Then ‘Weak Days’ closes things out in entirely different fashion – a slow blues in the vein of ‘Stormy Monday’, but with a woozy, slip-sliding vocal evoking a protagonist who sounds like a bit of a drunken idler.  Duarte’s guitar playing is equally characterful, embodying the spirit of the song beautifully – slow or quick, it’s all eye-poppingly good, and makes 7 minutes go by in a flash.
I could go on about some other tracks too, but you get the picture.  Ain’t Giving Up is probably my favourite album of the year so far.  I may never have heard of Chris Duarte before, but I’m sure as hell gonna try some more of his Texas Sugar Strat Magik now – and you should get on the case too.
Ain’t Giving Up is released by Provogue Records on 14 April, and is available here.

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