The latest release from guitarist/vocalist Chris Bergson is a blues album, entitled appropriately enough, "Blues". It was recorded live at Smoke and features Matt Wilson on drums and Brian Charette on Hammond B-3 Organ. It’s a blend of Delta and Chicago blues and Bergson’s style instantly brings to mind comparisons to the great blues guitarist/vocalist Stevie Ray Vaughan. However, while Bergson is a very talented guitarist and a has a warm, expressive voice I feel that this album falls far short of what one could call a ‘great’ blues album.
It’s difficult to say what, exactly, makes a blues album great. It’s one of those things that people like to say "I can’t describe it, but I can recognize it when I see it". It is often said that blues, unlike most other forms of music, is a style that cannot be taught; blues must first be experienced on a personal level and then ‘channeled’ into one’s performance. I firmly believe this to be true. You don’t have to be a great instrumentalist or a great vocalist to play great blues, but you do have to be able to connect to that place deep within your soul, where the blues lies in all of us, and allow it to come through in the music. I don’t believe that Bergson was able to make that connection on this recording.
I also found it interesting that the album (consisting of only five tunes) had a total run time of less than 26 minutes - basically nothing more than an EP. In this day and age, one has to wonder about the motivation behind releasing such a short album, especially considering the fact that this was a live recording of a club date. In addition to two covers (the Rodgers and Hart classic "Little Girl Blue" and the King and Thompson song "The Stumble"), Bergson contributes three originals. Neither of the originals stands out; they all follow the standard blues progression and the lyrics are not particularly memorable.
On the plus side, Bergson greatly benefits from the fine playing of Charette on the Hammond B-3 organ and Wilson on drums. They provide understated but strong support that gives Bergson plenty of room to run. Unfortunately, he’s not able to take advantage of that room. I simply did not hear the rawness and the total vulnerability that I think are necessary components of a great blues performance.
All in all, "Blues" is a valiant effort by a great trio but one that ultimately misses the mark.