Quiet the collection, this, as Chuck seems bent on assembling various odds and sods for what turns out to be a spirited gathering of friends and influences.
Chuck, of course, has steadily built a reputation over the years as a devotee and preservationist of classic barrelhouse piano, with influences that include the likes of Sunnyland Slim, Floyd Jones, and Memphis Slim. But Chuck knows well that if the music’s to remain vital and alive, the correct approach isn’t one of scholarly reverence. Joyous exuberance is called for, and there’s much in evidence here, rendering this a collection as fresh as today’s headlines.
Things kick off with a solo take on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Keep On Drinkin,” a fitting opener that establishes the tenor of the disc. Chuck’s work on this one is exemplary, from his easy-going vocals to absolutely stellar piano, showing him easily the equal of his idols. “Mt. St. Helen Blues,” an original, continues the great storytelling tradition of the blues, with a full band treatment that features fine harmonica from John Tanner and a vocal turn by Robert Hunter.
Then Chuck throws a curve with “Farfisa B3 Boogie for Steve Winwood” (yes, that’s the tune’s actual title), a short, furious duet between Chuck and co-composer Jim McKaba. “Looking For My Baby” returns to more traditional territory with a straightforward shuffle featuring Otis Smothers on guitar and vocals before another break that sees Chuck tackling two of his own compositions, the first a rollicking duet with acoustic guitarist Ben Andrews, the second an old-timey sounding solo called “Iza Mae.”
It’s back to full band treatments for the next three tunes, with various lineups that included the likes of drummer S. P. Leary, Chicago stalwarts Billy Flynn and Johnny B. Moore on guitars, and the late Willie Kent on bass and vocals. (Willie’s in fine form, reminding listeners of just how much he’s missed).
Chuck takes another solo spin for Leroy Carr’s “Ain’t Got No Money Now,” (a different structure, but essentially the better-known “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” with alternate wrapping) which segues into an almost spooky treatment of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” with guest Bethany Thomas pitting her sultry vocals against Chuck’s rather oddly-toned organ. “Nutty Boogie” is a high-spirited pairing with co-composer Erwin Helfer, the two trading riffs like old friends, while “Walk Don’t Run 69” is indeed The Ventures’ classic instrumental, Billy Flynn returning to handle the cool surf guitar in addition to bass duties.
“B. B. Q. Girl” is the disc’s lone live track, a straight-ahead twelve-bar number with fine slide from Josh Miller in the best Muddy Waters tradition. The party comes to a close with “Gigilo,” an apt title indeed – it’s a short piece of sparkling piano work followed by, of all things, recordings from Chuck’s telephone answering machine. But hey, we should all be so lucky – Chuck’s musical friends and potential employers, all leaving messages regarding upcoming gigs, include Sunnyland Slim, Smokey Smothers, Wild Child Butler, Steve Freund, John Brim, Blind John Davis, Jimmy Rogers, and many others. It’s not something most listeners will play every day, but it’s oddly fascinating to hear snippets of legendary figures in completely candid moments.
While recording was obviously done at various times in various settings, consistent mastering holds everything together, yielding a package with a great deal of variety that nonetheless sounds like a cohesive collection. Those who care about such things be warned, though – while it’s nicely done, packaging here is minimal, and all you get to store this one is a simple cardboard sleeve. It’s unfortunate, really - if Chuck is dedicated to preserving this music, wouldn’t something sturdier and more lasting be appropriate? That’s quibbling, though, and it’s the music, after all, that matters. And the music here is as good as it gets.
A fine collection indeed – highly recommended!