Almost 30 years after his critically praised debut album Texas Sugar Strat Magik, blues-roots guitarist Chris Duarte explores beyond the ferocious, SRV-esque blues-rock on his latest LP Ain’t Giving Up. While Duarte still finds room to eke out the Texas strut alongside his aggressive strat tone and killer blues chops, he expands on his passion for the genre by showcasing a new-found spectrum of musicality.
There’s still a nostalgic scent to his 15th studio album, with the Austin, Texas six-stringer teaming up with producer-guitarist Dennis Herring, 22 years after working together on Duarte’s 1994 breakout release. He also reunites with ‘Texas Sugar’ drummer Brannan Temple, although the record features a vintage Univox rhythm machine which Duarte jams over on some of the songs.
Duarte’s style here is raw and revved-up — taking the electric blues and gnawing it back to the bare bones. Minimal overdubs (or even re-records), and fun, off-the-cuff solos tracked live help capture the coarse emotion prevalent on this 12-track LP.
Part of Dennis’s approach is to literally record everything, even snippets between songs — just like on empowering ballad “Gimme Your Love.” After the breezy blue shuffles and terrific, wailing solo, Duarte can be heard chucking, ‘Just like I planned it,’ before digging his heels into the rootsy “Come My Way.”
Opener “Nobody But You” has an old-school rockabilly feel driven by a ‘tinny’ floor tom-thumping beat. Backed by some tasty slide work, the use of vintage gear in the half-baked, distorted vocals sounds like it could have been recorded over an antique phone line.
The first round of “Big Fight” descends from feedback chaos and some abstract, layered guitar work into a muscular, mid-temple groove with a nuance of funk.
It wouldn’t be a Duarte album without a blues instrumental, announcing himself as the modern master of the Texas Shuffle on “Can Opener.” With a nod to Jimmie Vaughan in his Fabulous Thunderbirds days and the free-flowing bliss of his younger brother, Duarte bends and blasts the lid off in this mid-tempo instrumental 12-bar jam.
“Half As Good As Two” sees Duarte shooting more blues-tinged sparks from his guitar, adding the boogie of Austin, Texas, to an already dialed-in blues groove. “Lies Lies Lies” is a riffy pub blues-rocker with a strong, catchy chorus and more exuberant guitar playing.
Album closer “Weak Days” at just over seven minutes bubbles along slowly, with the cauldron stirred by emotive phrasings that bring to mind bona fide blues classic ‘Stormy Monday Blues.’ It’s a beautifully arranged piece with Duarte illustrating his mastery of the blues and feel for a change of pace.
Ain’t Giving Up isn’t the sound of Duarte abandoning the blues but pushing his music forward by taking risks. Let’s hope it gives this genuine Texas Bluesman the wider recognition his dedication and mean guitar fire deserve.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Nobody But You
– Can Opener
– Weak Days
The Big Hit
– Can Opener
Buy the album: Amazon