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Barrelhouse Chuck
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Driftin' from Town to Town
Living Blues, August 2013

This is the third release from pianist Barrelhouse Chuck and his second collaboration with Fabulous Thunderbirds front man Kim Wilson on the independent Sirens label, a niche imprint that specializes in gospel, jazz, and especially all things blues piano (for readers who aren’t familiar with the label, their catalog is well worth perusing at; Heavy Timbre and 8 Hands on 88 Keys are exceptional). With Wilson currently riding a wave of critical acclaim for the T-birds’ newest album, Driftin’ from Town to Town couldn’t have been released at a better time, and the Blues All-Stars are just that—perennial West Coast favorites in bassist Larry Taylor (of Canned Heat) and drummer Richard Innes, guitarists Billy Flynn and Jeremy Johnson, and sax man Sax Gordon.
There’s no need to review the long résumés of the men playing here, and the 13-song set is just as strong and the grooves just as tight as you would expect from such a talented ensemble. Most of the tracks are in the Chicago blues vein, providing the perfect vehicle for Chuck’s Sunnyland Slim–inspired dexterity on the keys. Their cover of Floyd Jones’ Stockyard Blues stands out for its airy arrangement, anchored by the slow and steady rhythm provided by Taylor and Innes. Wilson lays down some particularly tasteful (and reserved) first position harp work on that track.
An instrumental version of Willie Dixon’s Three Hundred Pounds of Joy, a song typically associated with Howlin’ Wolf, is an unexpected delight—Flynn and Johnson channel Hubert Sumlin, Wilson’s amplified harmonica replaces the Wolf’s vocal lines, and Gordon answers Wilson’s call with some punchy sax fills. Faithful covers of Jody Williams’ Lucky Lou and Chuck Berry’s Thirty Days add sonic variety to the proceedings without leaving the Windy City, but the boys head south to Memphis to wrap things up with one from the Stax catalog, Booker T & the M.G.s’ Time Is Tight.
Driftin’ from Town to Town is not innovative, but it doesn’t need to be—it’s just a beautiful display of blues artistry, performed by master bluesmen steeped in tradition and doing what they do best.”

- Roger Gatchet