Chris Winters Band – Blue Fever
by Rex Bartholomew, Blues Blast Magazine

If you are going to do an album with no lyrics, you had better make sure that your songwriting and performance skills are in tip-top shape. With nothing to distract the listener, they will hang upon every last note you play, and be critical of any missteps. Well the Chris Winters band does not have to worry about this as they accomplished this task handily with their latest instrumental release, Blue Fever.

Chris Winters has been in the Chicago blues scene for years, recording, playing and touring with some excellent folks, including Mississippi Heat and Otis Clay as well as a regular gig with Liz Mandeville. His impressive guitar chops have kept him working steadily for years. Winters is inspired by Freddie “The Texas Cannonball” King, and his love of 1950s and 1060s guitar instrumentals has culminated in the production of this album.

Winters is joined on this CD by a passel of other great musicians. He takes care of the guitars, with Steve “The Kid” Howard on bass, Brother John Kattke on Hammond organ, while Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith and Larry Beers share the drumming chores. By the way, Kenny Smith is the son of the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the legendary drummer and harp master

This album is a great follow-up to his last instrumental release from 2004, Impressions. Like before, he did not fall into the trap that is found on some instrumental albums where it ends up being a series of self-indulgent jams that go on forever. Instead, he focused on the songs, and all eleven tracks tell a musical story with the longest clocking in just a bit over five minutes.

And Chris does not get stuck in a rut either, as he moved away from the more jazzy material of his previous release and recorded tunes that cross a number of blues genres. The opener is the upbeat “One a Day Blues” which has a traditional 12-bar blues structure, some nice organ work, and a glorious 1950s throaty guitar tone. He has a fabulous touch on the guitar and his lyrical playing style ensures that the listener will not bemoan the lack of words.

Then the band explores funk with “Freedom Cry” which is nice and with the solid backline of Beers and Howard. Kattke’s keyboards do a nice job of filling the gaps and setting the mood as Winters doubles up on his guitar parts. “Space Boogie” (not a remake of the Jeff Beck song of the same name) is a fast Texas-style boogie, and Chris gets the chance to show off a little with searing guitar solos as Smith hammers out the rock solid drum line.

Things slow down for “Low Tide” which is a laid-back blues tune with more simple bass and drum parts so the guitar can tell the story. After this breather, there is plenty of fancy picking in “Blue Country Rag,” which sounds just like you would expect from the title. There is a definite Albert Lee twang and vibe to this one, which is a good thing in my book.

The title track reminds me of the great melodic blues guitar players, such as Gary Moore or Peter Green. The rich organ sounds and the heavy ride cymbal and snare would fit in well with the best of the early 1970s blues rock releases. This is my favorite track on the album, and this is one where I wish Winters would have taken a few liberties and made it even longer. Five minutes was just not enough for this song.

“Dealing with a Feeling” is a slow and short, but still melodic, and Chris does a fine job of giving his guitar a voice and telling a story without words. They also rock out a bit with “Did You Know” which is a harder blues rock tune with a nicely doubled bass line and a raw electric guitar tone.

After the jaunty swing of “Staring at the Sun, the Chris Winters Band finishes up the effort with “Breaking the Chains.” This funky blues rocker ties together a lot of the genres found in this album, and leaves the listener wanting more. They did not wear out their welcome, which shows a lot of maturity on their part.

Overall, the production is consistently good, and the instruments are recorded well with even tone and all of the tracks have a solid mix. Blue Fever is a fine album, and if you like blues-based guitar instrumentals you have to check it out for yourself. Chris Winters did a great job, and I hope we do not have to wait another nine years to hear more from him.

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at www.rexbass.blogspot.com.

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