I've got admit that I'm a bit of a sucker when it comes to harp-based Chicago Blues, especially when it's as good as "No Worries," the debut from Rob Stone and the C-Notes. This is a very together band--it only took two days to record the CD--led by a highly competent harp playing singer/songwriter. Although Stone's playing mainly brings to mind Little Walter, the final sound has Stone's mark stamped all over it.
The C-Notes are a reunion of the first band Stone jammed with: Chris James plays very sympathetic guitar, effortlessly swapping between Jazz and Blues styles as required, and the solid bass lines are laid down by Patrick Rynn, mainly on upright bass. The line-up is completed by the legendary Sam Lay on drums. The fact that he has worked together with Stone over the last five years suggests that Stone has the Lay seal of approval, which should be good enough for anybody!
The line up may be the standard Chicago one, but the songs demonstrate the full range of the Chicago Blues, from the slow "Lost and Lonely," to the jumping "Back Off Baby." The material is equally divided between new songs and covers, three of which are songs associated with Little Walter. The other covers were written by Bluesmen who have recently passed on: Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon and Lowell Fulson.
Stone's original songs are good enough to hold their own alongside the older stuff, and with "Smokin' In the Gully," he's come up with an absolute gem. It's an instrumental basically written as a showcase piece for harp and drums, and they both live up to expectations. The way it all hangs together is pure poetry.
The harp playing is never less than excellent, although he takes a breather on track 8, "I've Been Loving You In My Mind", where Jesse Scinto is drafted in on honking tenor sax as a replacement. The slight change of emphasis signals a minor interlude with a big 50's style R&B number. Scinto sits the next one out and then returns for an encore as the band add a calypso groove to Jimmy Witherspoon's "Money's Getting Cheaper."
"No Worries" is an hour of classic Chicago-style Blues, with a great big 50's atmosphere but done in a 90's way. Rather than just being a recycling of old standards, however, it demonstrates that there is still a lot of mileage left in the Chicago style. I suspect that we're all going to hear a lot more about the excellent Rob Stone and C-Notes in the future.
Marquis Records, Box #117, 3023 N. Clark, Chicago, IL 60657.
Although not up yet, Rob's new website address will be: www.robstone.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.