I’m a huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, and as such, I’m sensitive to any artist I feel is borrowing too heavily from his work. But when I say Sean Chambers’ latest, Welcome to My Blues is Vaughan-influnced, I mean it as a compliment. Chambers’ seventh album features funky rhythms, incendiary blues runs, and just the right touch of Jimi Hendrix fuzz and mania, all of which will delight fans of the late Vaughan, without pilfering from Vaughan’s legacy.
Chambers is an accomplished solo artist who is probably best known for his time backing the legendary Hubert Sumlin, Sumlin himself best known for backing the legendary Howlin’ Wolf. Chambers also grew up a huge Hendrix fan. So it’s not surprising he has a Vaughan sound. He comes from a similar musical stew of classic blues and Hendrix spice. What’s great about Welcome to My Blues is that it’s much looser and more free-wheeling than Trouble and Whiskey, Chambers’ 2017 Billboard-charting album.
Chambers has a serviceable voice that works for the songs, but his guitar playing is what’s going to grab your attention. And not just his soloing. He’s got a beautiful tone, with a big sound and a little more distortion than you might expect from a blues artist. You notice the tone on “Boxcar Willie,” which has a funky groove like Vaughan’s cover of The Beatles’ “Tax Man.” But the distortion gives the track a rock edge. And the solo, as is every solo on the album, is intense, heart-felt, and technically impressive.
The album features more traditional blues, too. “Keep Movin On,” a Chambers original, is a slow blues featuring a cleaner guitar tone. He gives a very strong vocal performance, perhaps the strongest of the album, but the barely-contained guitar nearly overshadows it. Chambers’ guitar guides the band through the song, periodically pausing to detonate into an explosion of guitar riffs, and then returning to the song. He pulls out all of the stops, from huge bends to speed runs, and never once does he bore the listener—even after repeated listens.
The album concludes with “Riviera Blue,” a Chambers co-write with John Ginty, his keyboardist. It’s gentle piano jazz a bit reminiscent of Vaughan’s similarly titled “Riviera Paradise,” although Chambers sticks to bluesy licks over the low-key, pretty piano. It’s a very sweet homage. Vaughan had a not-so-secret love of jazz, and while Chambers doesn’t seem to share that love, he makes it work with a blues music vocabulary.
The songs and performances on Welcome to My Blues are all strong, but producer Ben Elliott deserves a lot of credit for making everything sound so good. The guitar pops out of the mix in a fairly perfect manner. But of course Chambers deserves the lion’s share of the credit for keeping the songs tight enough that they hold together, but loose enough that you feel the spontaneity and energy of the album. Chambers shares Vaughan’s sound, but also has his own voice, and it comes through powerfully across all eleven tracks.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Keep Movin On
– Boxcar Willie
– Black Eyed Susie
– One More Night to Ride
– All Night Long
– Welcome to My Blues
The Big Hit
– Welcome to My Blues
Review by Steven Ovadia