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Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Stop And Think About It
East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Stop And Think About It
Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Stop And Think About It
– Earwig, 2008

This is the debut CD from James (vocals, guitar) and Rynn (electric and upright bass), although they have participated in recordings by Sam Lay (anchored his band for five years), Jody Williams and Rob Stone & The C-Notes (as band members), as well as recording on CDs by Dennis Binder, Tomcat Courtney and a Rhythm Room All Stars compilation or two. As you can see, they are very busy men and are in-demand as blues musicians. That in itself is quite a compliment, and the pair’s abilities and love of the real thing (as they refer to it) is responsible for their success. In case there is any question of where their musical hearts lie, I’ll let you know that this CD is dedicated to legends/heroes who passed while the CD was being made: Dave Myers, Willie Kent, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Homesick James, Snooky Pryor, Henry Townsend and Big Jay McShann.

Chris and Patrick been playing music together for almost 20 years, basing themselves at various times out of Chicago, San Diego and Phoenix (Rhythm Room house band). They are leaders of their own band, The Blue Four, but recorded this CD on own their own with other musicians. The recording sessions for Stop And Think About It were basically completed in two sessions, featuring two separate bands. One band featured Chris and Patrick along with David Maxwell (piano), Sam Lay (drums), a two-man tenor sax section and several other players. The second band included Chris and Patrick, Bob Corritore (harmonica), Julien Brunetaud (a talented French pianist), Eddie Kobek (has been Nick Moss’ drummer), as well as several other players.

Chris James was playing blues professionally by the age of 13 as a harp player, then as a bass player, in the band of Tomcat Courtney in San Diego, eventually gravitation to guitar. Patrick grew up in Toledo, and was classically trained on bass while in his teens. During college he was exposed to a cassette tape of Elmore James and to the old-school blues of Toledo’s The Griswolds, going to see them, and then jamming with then, eventually joining the band! Both men ended up in Chicago around 1990, drawn there by the lure of learning hard blues first-hand from the Legends of the music, with Dave Myers (The Aces) eventually becoming a huge influence and mentor.

The Songs: (songwriters listed in parenthesis)

1. You’re Gone – (James and Rynn)
--The CD kick-off tune gets the effort underway in fine fashion. It’s a combination stop-time/wailer, and would have fit right into place in James Cotton’s ‘60s recordings. Can you say “high energy”?

2. Early One Morning – (Elmore James)
--That high energy level carries over to this cut, which is a keening, honking (2-man tenor sax section) take on an Elmore classic. Chris James has a nice touch on slide, and doesn’t make it sound exactly like Elmore – which is a good thing. I also like the emotion that Chris is able to inject into his vocals. His full-throated singing sounds great on all this material, and gives a distinctive edge to the several Elmore covers found on this album.

3. Mister Coffee – (James and Rynn)
--The band brings it down a on this tune, taking a quieter, back porch approach. This is one of the best tunes on the CD, and is one of the more novel double-entendre tunes you are likely to hear any time soon. Turn this one up loud in order to fully appreciate the percussion work of Sam Lay; that’s a professional at work boys and girls.

4. Confessin’ The Blues – (Jay McShann, Walter Brown)
--This is a great classic tune from the songbooks of McShann and Brown. The version on this CD is outstanding. It’s a mid-tempo swinger, with wonderful piano courtesy of Frenchman Julien Brunetaud and a killer walking bass line from Patrick Rynn. Chris James’ vocals aren’t too bad, either. He’s a singer of fine tone and phrasing, and you can hear his Jr. Wells influences at times (especially in his phrasing.)

5. I’d Like To Write A Letter – (James and Rynn)
--You can really hear the Wells influences in Chris James’ singing on this track. It’s a slow blues, featuring Chris’ fretwork and the harmonica playing of Bob Corritore. In my book Chris is one of those underrated, unknown musicians who deserves much greater notoriety. He’s plays the blues, all blues, from deep in his soul.

6. Hawaiian Boogie – (Elmore James)
--Ah, one of my favorite Elmore James tunes. Elmore’s version is still my favorite from among all the many different versions I’ve heard over the years, including this one. There’s a certain raw passion that none of the non-Elmore versions quite capture. That said, this is a rollicking good time, with more great ivory pounding from Mr. Brunetaud. The slide here is just a little heavy, missing that skating on the strings feel.

7. Stop And Think About It – (James and Rynn)
--Here’s a solid mid-tempo Chicago blues shuffle, again with Sam Lay providing that shuffle. There are some fun metaphors about how dim-witted people are becoming (sharp as a marble and your head’s even harder). This one reminds me of Carey Bell’s work, both in overall feel and in vocal intonation.

8. Mona – (Elias McDaniel aka Bo Diddley)
--It’s getting to be tough to cover this tune anymore, especially if you don’t really do anything to make it your own. The guys play this one pretty much by the book. It sounds fine, but not special. The last time I heard anyone do anything really original with this tune, which is so indelibly tied to Bo Diddley, was Guy Forsyth on his Steak CD. There is a feeling of sexual tension, within inches of being out of control, which this song originally possessed. The version of it here just doesn’t reach that danger zone.

9. Got To Move – (Elmore James)
--Ah, this is more like it. The love of Elmore James’ music that Chris and Patrick most definitely have comes out here. Chris’ vocals are bordering on being out of control (in the best way), and his slide work is nice and loose, but never sloppy. There are elements of Rice Miller’s “Help Me” here, especially in the lyrics. This cut grinds, baby.

10. Someone To Love Me – (James “Snooky” Pryor)
--Talk about a ridiculously underrated bluesman, Snooky Pryor was that man. This is low-down and dirty, ensemble electric Chicago blues at its finest. The boys achieve a major groove here and ride it for all it’s worth. You might notice this tune sounds very similar to Arthur Big Boy Crudup’s “That’s All Right”, which was made famous by Elvis Presley after he heard Crudup’s version. Elvis did love his blues..

11. Relaxin’ At The Clarendon – (James and Rynn)
--Here is an instrumental track from Chris and Patrick that is solidly in the Elmore James-school of electric slide guitar. It even includes saxophones, which Elmore used a lot of in his recordings and bands. The slide work heard here is nice and loose again, catching hold of the emotion of the tune.

12. My Kind Of Woman – (Elmore James)
--The set closing tune is one last cover of an Elmore James tune. The saxes honk hard, sounding just right. We need more sax work in blues today; I miss it. Instead of slide guitar, Chris chooses to play straight electric guitar, punching power chords and picking sharp notes (along the lines of Chris Cain), which is a nice change of pace and a way to put his own stamp on the tune. Elmore is so well loved as a slide player, and was so good at it, that it’s almost impossible to cover one of his tunes and make it sound any better than the original. This version presents a great ending to an exceptional CD.

The Verdict:

Stop And Think About It is an album that any fan of classic-era electric Chicago blues should find immensely satisfying. There’s no doubt whatsoever that Chris James and Patrick Rynn have deep love and affection for the music, and have the chops and imagination necessary to play this music without it being nothing more than a carbon-copy of what has come before. The music on this CD is vibrantly alive. The best blues music is so much harder to play than it appears; running scales isn’t important, but feel, or soul, most definitely is. James and Rynn have soul to spare, and also have an exceptional release on their hands. This CD is very highly recommended, especially for those folks out there that have a deep admiration for ‘50s and ‘60s blues from such artists as Jr. Wells, Elmore James, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood and the Myers brothers. Let’s rate it - STLBluesometer rating of 4.00


Lee Howland - aka "East Side Slim"
The STLBluesometer

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