Fans of TV show Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock may recognise Chris Barnes name, for ’tis he that played an important role in those shows. In another life on the musical stage, he has been performing his unique take on Hokum Blues in over thousands of performances…billed as Chris BadNews Barnes. He’s just released his first all-original album, following the Tampa Red and Georgia Tom tribute (The Hokum Boys) and a live album recorded on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Incidentally, if you’re unsure about the term Hokum Blues, it is usually defined as: “a humorous song which uses extended analogies or euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos.” This, of course, follows in the grand tradition of many of the old blues players and if you want a couple of examples, try Lil Johnson’s Push My Button or the truly bawdy Shave ‘Em Dry by Lucille Bogan (sometimes known as Bessie Jackson) bearing in mind these were written in the 1920s and therefore even more ‘scandalous’.
This album also features the drum and production legend Tom Hambridge…always a sign of quality and he had a hand in composing the songs too. The musicians are also of a high calibre having worked with the great and good of the blues world. Not every track is salacious humour, Chris also has the knack of storytelling and recounts times from his past as well as his reflective, more sensitive side…there’s still plenty of time for humour and satire to shine on the second half of the album. If you don’t like double entendres of the subtle and not so subtle kind or you don’t ‘get’ Chris’s subversive humour, just listen to the melodies, the musicianship and, above all, listen to the blues…it’s worth it for some great songs.
It all bodes well as you press play and are greeted by the opening track, the title of which, echoes what I’ve been saying for years…You Wanna Rock? You Gotta Learn The Blues is a blues song with delicious slide over the slow-paced backing. Chris’s vocals are suitably gavel and powerful as he leaves you in no doubt that the blues is the root of all we hear, and the slide solo tells the same story with clever bottleneck.
When Koko Came To Town tells the tale of his exploits performing with Koko Taylor and other blues stars at Tramps, a club in New York that staged all of the greats. The blues are horny on this one as the band put the lilt into the solid structure… more great slide too as he drops names into the well-constructed melody (Mick and Keith were there too) and a piano solo keeps the mood nicely. Quid Pro Quo is more horn-driven blues over a traditional ‘Batman’ theme as we hear about mutual scratching of backs and get a neatly picked guitar solo too.
My Baby Be Cray Cray Cray has barrelling piano to back the story of his ten-year marriage secrets…sort of! It’s an irresistible rhythm with a great piano solo and neat guitar throughout and Chris’s vocal hits just the right levels; ‘cray’ appears to be short for ‘crazy’ and the spoken outro is humorous but true. I Slow Danced With Joni Mitchell is an autobiographical, bluesy ballad that relates the positives and the negatives of his life to date and name drops throughout…but he knows Bill Murray, so why not? The simple volume-controlled guitar section adds to the atmosphere and the seemingly disparate elements actually add up to a quality song. The tempo and mood lift considerably on the ‘Snake like Chicks Dig Me and where Chris gives DC a run for his money in the suggestive stakes…even when he arrives at the ‘Cowboy dancing’ saloon!
The Creamy Caramel Cafe is a soul, blues, funk amalgam that frames the food and drink innuendos…the chord work is as slinky as the storyline and the harp solo is a delight with a brilliant bass line riding behind it all. Kettle Black starts like a Budgie song before chugging along with a weighty blues riff. The lyrics address the pot calling the kettle black theme with humour that’s reflecting in the playful piano backing and the neat guitar solo.
Texas Weiner could be about fast food…on the other hand, this is BadNews and so it’s actually a Faces styled romp about a hot dog truck owner that prefers his sausage to Chris’s! A fun song in every sense and you will be singing along with the chorus…just be prepared to explain should anyone overhear. Yes, it’s smut but it’s a great feel-good song with quality backing. The final track leaves little to the imagination… I Like Cleavage may well be about the separation of sides in US politics…or maybe not! It matters not as the horns, the sax and then a genius slide solo wrap around the humour to present quality blues.
In reality, Chris’s reputation for smut only reveals itself on a couple of tracks and they will make you smile. Elsewhere, he is serious, almost confessional and passionate and, importantly, the melodies and music are very good indeed. Above all, this is an album of quality blues: give it a listen.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen where only on a couple of tracks is his risqué humour employed…and they will make you smile. Elsewhere, he is serious, almost confessional and passionate and, importantly, the melodies and music are very good indeed. Above all, this is an album of quality blues: give it a listen.
You Wanna Rock? You Gotta Learn The Blues
When Koko Came To Town
Quid Pro Quo
My Baby Be Cray Cray Cray
I Slow Danced With Joni Mitchell
Chicks Dig Me
The Creamy Caramel Cafe
I Like Cleavage
Chris Barnes: vocals
Tom Hambridge: drums, backing vocals
Pat Buchanan: guitar, harmonica
Tommy McDonald: bass
Kevin McKendree: keyboards
Max Abrams; saxophone
Steve Patrick: trumpet
Rachael and Sarah Hambridge: backing vocals
Produced by Tom Hambridge at Nashville’s Sound Stage Studio.
(iTunes gave me a reminder of another Chris: Chris Catena who, on his 2004 Freak Out! album did a cover of Whitesnake’s Sweet talker and even recruited Marsden and Moody to help out…he’s no DC but it’s still a great version and the rest of the album isn’t bad either with a great guest list: Glenn Hughes, John Lawton, Jeff Scott Soto to name but three.)