Times marches on for some artists and often do the artists fade; sometimes due to fiduciary declinations, failing health or worse, artistic irrelevance. The hard bitten life of playing one-nighters and long drives in between has by attrition whittled down the pack whereby so few have managed to stay afloat to eek out a living, even more so making it harder to try and flex the creative muscles that are so needed to sustain the only life these artists know.
Chris Duarte has done just that. He does not enjoy super stardom or posh amenities while on the road but he still counts himself lucky and extremely grateful for his position in the Spartan world of true road musicians. "I've been able to do what I've loved to do for the past 17 years playing my music and doing what I want to play." Chris now is on the cusp of releasing his 9th album on a major label. Ever since he was thrust upon the international stage with his 1994 release of "Texas Sugar Strat Magik", Chris has collected accolades and "mad-props" from every corner of the world and from diverse players such as Ted Nugent, Scott Henderson and Joe Satriani. Chris is not one to rest on his laurels though, "Every night it's got to be like your last. Here am I given another opportunity to further my craft and to try out and hone new melodic ideas. People come up to me and thank me for putting so much into my shows and for such modest crowds. I sometimes play for tables and chairs and I tell them if it was just a couple of people out in the audience, just one person, then it's going to be the same show."
Maybe that's just the very clue we need to better understand the title of his new release on Blues Bureau International / Shrapnel – Infinite Energy
When interviewing Chris for this piece, he explained how at first it was his intention for this newest effort to be a homage to one of his many guitar playing idols; Jimi Hendrix."I wanted the songs to have this Hendrixian vibe to it throughout the whole project." "But in the course of writing the songs, the direction starts to divert from the original intention and since I'm on a tight schedule, you let the song take its course rather than stopping the creative momentum to possibly re-write, which then leads me to second guessing myself and bogs me down. Sometimes it's just better to let it flow. I feel that this was the right decision."
Although Chris admits the total effort is not entirely Hendrix-like, there are obvious leanings and nods to the guitar Master.
The opening cut "Riding" harkens up strong Hendrix riffing. Duarte manages to inject his own stamp on it as well. Multi layered guitar tracks and different tonal applications bring it all together. "Up in Olympus" is the other stand out Hendrix nod having all the multi-tracked guitar parts, possessing a symphonic quality with the supporting mid lines beneath the dueling solos driving the rhythm section below. Only the Japan release has "Up in Olympus".
Rounding out the rest of the Hendrix inspired material is "Cold Cold Day", "City Life Blues" and "Sundown Blues".
All these songs reflect Jimi's styling's; "Cold Cold Day" the other instrumental on the album, set in a bluesy groove in the front of the song and ending with Chris's affinity for McLaughlin's rapid fire runs. "City Life Blues" is a rocking heavy blues riff with Chris displaying the reckless abandonment much akin to the way Jimi approached straight forward blues standards." Blues riffs have been done so much. With this form I was just trying to keep it fresh every time it came around to the top. Not so easy a job. In the blues it's easy to play all the same old blues patterns. Keep challenging yourself is what I kept telling myself."
With that we cannot forget one of the greatest legacy's of Hendrix's: the hypnotic E- drone jams. "Sundown Blues" takes this cue but with a syncopated ascending pentatonic run at the onset Chris has put his mark on it and that turns out to be the cue for the top of the form. Evocative and exploratory, Chris and his group, Chris Burroughs on drums and Matt Stallard on bass, man the sails and provide the power for their captain to steer adventurously into the vast harmonic seas.
Not to be overshadowed are the remaining numbers. "Cross My Heart" borrows from the "retro-groove" vibes that is enjoying resurgence now in the industry. The guitar playing is Chris's mix of the blues and jazz as his vocals reflect Chris's growing aspirations to increase his vocal presentations. I feel he's now starting to better understand his voice as an instrument. Another vocal effort is the ballad "My Heart Don't Want To Let You Go." Bad English aside, Chris explains, "I kind of wanted the way Jimi started off the beginning of "Have You Ever Been" off "Electric Lady Land" with Jimi's soul leanings and falsetto lines with the back-up singer vibe. I had a lot of fun putting this song together. I'm just in my nascent stages with songwriting." Starting off using obvious soul styles, the song turns into a semi-power ballad. Soaring guitar lines accompany the melody at first progressing to an emotional lift-off on the outro. "Me All Me" is a riff that producer Mike Varney suggested and the boys went from there. The lyrics are Chris's commentary on the reality/paparazzi/celebrity fame phenomenon that holds our attention from time to time. With vocal bravado much like Mick Jagger, there's plenty of attitude and rock guitar revving up this song.
"Purple Gloaming" is a heavy groove displaying a "Cream" vibe. The visually evocative lyrics describe a strange dream. The guitar tone is so different on this cut and so thick. A "stoner" cut if ever there was one.
"Killing Time" has a Govt. Mule sound to it for me and Chris confirmed as much, "I was just thinking of the way Warren Haynes sings. I love his voice with all its raw emotion he displays" Of course the subject is a bit dark but it works here since the song itself is cloaked in a dark sort of one key drone accentuated with a 7/8 odd time chorus.
"Hamra St." is a one-time live cut that is dedicated and inspired by the time Chris spent in Beirut, Lebanon last year during a week long stint he did. "Just all the activity and craziness that goes on in Beirut and on that street was what I was trying to draw off of. Truly a magical time for me. One I'll never forget."
Then there's "Waiting On You." The bounciest song on the album, the guitar drives and stings with accents here but the icing on the cake is the guitar solo. It's melodic and hook-laden and well constructed. I found the song's melody still staying in my head long after I had listened to it.
Chris Duarte is compiling and succeeding to produce a good catalogue and body of work. After following him for many years I can see the maturation in Duarte's song writing. The melodies are better and the songs are getting stronger. More impressive is this fact: almost every recorded album Chris has done in his career, he's been held to a schedule of 2 to 3 weeks for completion. Adding to that you throw into the mix his relentless touring schedule and you can see that it takes Infinite Energy to keep the bar this high making strong music.
To learn more about the Chris Duarte Group visit:
Chris Duarte Group Fan Club & Stuff
P.O. Box 31516
Aurora, CO 80041
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