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Chris Ruest Band feat. Gene Taylor at Chrome
March 29, 2018 @ 6:00 pm
It’s been about five years since Chris Ruest released the criminally under-recognized Too Many Problems, a terrific set of ’50s-inspired blues and rock. Those who heard it and have been awaiting its follow-up have at last been rewarded: Ruest is back with a sophomore album. No 2nd Chances picks up where the guitarist left off: writing and performing vintage-style R&B with soul, personality, feel, and chops. Ruest’s guitar work is toneful, tough, and electrifying; his singing is exciting, with stutters, yelps, and shadings clearly conveying emotions and moods.
Relocating from Dallas to Austin put Ruest in contact with Nick Curran, who produced No 2nd Chances and who plays on it, along with notables like Gene Taylor of The Blasters and The Fabulous Thunderbirds on piano, and members of The Lowlifes (Derek Bossanova, piano; Billy Horton, bass) and The Rockets (Eric Przygocki, bass; Greg Izor, harp). Dynamics and band interplay are outstanding across the board; the Chicago-style “Unclaimed Freight,” with its swooping, dramatic harmonica break, insistent piano, and rolling guitar solo that pushes the band to crescendos during the ride out is but one instance. Recording again at Fort Horton Studios helped ensure the truest-to-vintage fidelity possible; it seems as if all the best-sounding contemporary projects come through the Horton Brothers’ tape machines.
The music is a satisfying survey of classic roots styles. Hard-riffing horns and hammering piano drive the chugging New Orleans R&B of “You Ain’t Right”; “No Use But O’ Well” takes off over a tough box shuffle drawn straight from Ray Sharpe’s “Linda Lu”; Nick Curran shouts “I Wanna Rock Ya,” with the ghosts of Wynonie Harris and Gatemouth Brown inhabiting the jumping number. For “In This Heart Of Mine,” a tribute to Sam Myers, Ruest appropriately channels the slide guitar style of his mentor’s onetime bandmate, Elmore James. Among the other influences threading their way through the set are Little Willie John; Little Walter and the Aces on “Get What You Want”; a bold combination of Freddie King, Ike Turner, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson on the pop-R&B confection “No Room For 2nd Chances”; and Watson again, in the “Space Guitar”-inflected Ruest-Curran guitar romp “Late Nite Shuffle.”
We are reminded that artists adopt personae and do not necessarily write directly from personal experience. For Ruest’s sake, let’s hope that is true, because No 2nd Chances takes as its primary material some very dark subjects. In addition to the eulogy for Sam Myers, there is one for (I hope) a dog (the disturbing “Poor Little Greta”); other songs are concerned with desperate loneliness, and heartbreak is a recurring theme. What saves No 2nd Chances from desolation – apart from its deep, tasteful musicianship and raw, rocking feeling – is the sense of humor that balances and relieves the negative emotions (“Hit You With My Guitar” and “‘You Suck” are but two examples). And isn’t one of the paradoxes at the heart of the blues singing about feeling bad in order to feel good? Chris Ruest knows the blues. Highly recommended.
Contributing editor, Blues Revue