Chris Duarte – “Blues in the Afterburner”

“Another chapter in the quirky career of a

sometimes misunderstood Texas legend”

by Tango Sho’Nuff

Throughout his long and sometimes confusing recording career, Chris Duarte has been misunderstood in a variety of ways. First off, anyone who’s followed Duarte’s career can tell you that he has never been a wanna be/rip off/clone of anyone. SRV comparisions swarm to Texas guitarists like flies and Duarte has been plagued numerous times with the tag. And his somewhat shocking shifts in style from album to album along with some battles with addiction and other personal demons have left more than a few people scratching their heads in wonder as to who Chris really was as a musician.

While Chris’s early recording career was split between his classic Silvertone period (which includes his classic 94′ debut “TexasSugarStratMagic” and its fine 97′ follow up “Tailspin Headwhack”) and 2 releases on the ZOE/Rounder label (the eclectic “Love is Greater than Me” [2000] and “Romp” [2003])…it seems Chris has found a home with Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records subsidiary Blues Bureau International, where hes released 4 studio albums and 2 compilations since 2007, a stark contrast to his sporadic early career (an album roughly every 3 years).

“BLUES IN THE AFTERBURNER” is the newest Blues Bureau release from Mr. Duarte and just as you would expect from an artist who seems dead set on being unclassifiable, it is quite the eclectic collection. Duarte has been criticized in the past for his somewhat uneven records and depending on how you look at it, this release follows suit. The great thing about a Chris Duarte album is that there’s always something familiar along with something unexpected in each release. One almost gets the sense that Chris is always walking a thin line between releasing material that plays it safe for the portion of his fan base that expects him to remake “Texas Sugar” over and over, and more adventurous material that gets his creative juices flowing.

The album also marks the first time Chris has used session players instead of his usual band. In true Duarte tradition, the album has a live feel with minimal overdubs, and sonically is filled with a nice variety of tones and feels. In terms of sheer musical prowess on guitar, Duarte is in a class by himself. Of course, his vocals have been a constant source of criticism over the years, but when paired with certain material, his voice fits the bill nicely. Guitar-wise, Chris is an enigma…anyone who’s caught one of his incendiary live performances knows that he can drop jaws consistently every night with his endless array of licks, riffs, and tones…while never coming across as flashy or over the top. Still to this day, I have yet to see a more brilliantly complex rhythm guitarist than Duarte, be it blues, funk, jazz, or fusion…if he were to fore-go lead playing all together, his rhythm/comping skills would alone send shivers down any players spine.

It’s a mystery to me why Blues Bureau doesn’t just shell out the dough and release a proper LIVE CD/DVD because that is truly where Duarte’s brilliance shines brightest. Just watching Chris perform and play things you’ve never seen nor heard another player do is a surreal experience. Getting into some of the more familiar feeling tracks, there are a couple of good time danceable cuts (“MAKE ME FEEL SO RIGHT” and “DONTCHA DRIVE ME CRAZY”) the obligatory TX shuffle (“ANOTHER MAN”) and a pair of slow blues (“BOTTLE BLUES” and “BLACK CLOUDS ROLLING”). On the unexpected side of things, Chris treats us to a few “Americana-tinged” tracks – the driving “MILWAULKEE BLUES” and country-flavored “I’VE BEEN A FOOL” (the latter of which works surprisingly well with a very Dwight Yoakam/Pete Anderson feel).

Other standout tracks include “SEARCHING FOR YOU” – a full-tilt rocker that absolutely smokes – “BORN TO RACE” a mid tempo grinder with a early ZZ Top feel – and “SUMMERS CHILD” – a nice melodic ditty with some nice tasty lead and rhythm work. But the real highlight here is the majestic “HOLD BACK THE TEARS” (a Savoy Truffle cover). Alone worth the price of admission, “HOLD BACK…” is an absolute gem of a track, with choir-like swells and backwards lead lines peppered on top of what might be Duarte’s best vocal performance to date. Also worth mentioning is the album closer “PRAIRIE JELLY”, a 6 minute spastic instrumental fusion freak out jam filled with dazzling free form bursts of spicy jazz inflected phrases.

Overall, “BLUE IN THE AFTERBURNER” is yet another release that is guaranteed to generate mixed opinions. One thing is without question though, no matter what the public’s reaction, Duarte continues to strive for breaking new ground with his music. Uninterested in retreading the same ground or fitting into the current music scene…unlike some of his more ‘popular’ contemporaries, Chris’s influences do not begin and end with Hendrix and Vaughan. He is a true artist that isn’t afraid to follow his muse wherever it leads him.

Time will only tell where Chris Duarte’s music will take him next…after all, with the talent he has on guitar, it really doesn’t matter what direction his material heads in….its just a pleasure and a privilege to listen and go along for the ride.

7/10 stars

TRACK LISTING:

1 – Another Man
2 – Make Me Feel So Right
3 – Bottle Blues
4 – Milwaukee Blues
5 – Hold Back The Tears
6 – Summer’s Child
7 – Searching For You
8 – Black Clouds Rolling
9 – Don’t Cha Drive Me Crazy
10- Born To Race
11- I’ve Been A Fool
12- Prairie Jelly

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