I first discovered Jeff Chaz earlier this year when I mentioned to a good friend that I was looking for one more New Orleans player for a show I was putting together. He asked if I was going to play any Jeff Chaz and my obviously blank expression spoke volumes.
Blank expressions should not be on the face of people called “The Professor,” but this time it was me getting schooled.
When my friend shared Chaz’ album, Chronicles, with me, I was blown away by his music and his story. He was one of the multitudes wiped out by Katrina. He lost everything in that devastating storm and was just beginning to pick up his life. In the midst of doing that, he put together an amazing album that just blew me away.
I wanted to build a show around him and found out he was releasing a new album, SOUNDS LIKE THE BLUES TO ME, so I had to cool my jets until I could get that one. Once it hit my desk, I literally pounced on it and I’m glad I did. This is a terrific album that covers a lot of musical territory and Chaz’ vocals and guitar playing are as soulful as ever.
This new album is rich and expressive and calls on Chaz’ many years studying and playing the blues. Chaz wrote or co-wrote every song on the 12-song disc and you can feel his emotion in just about every bar of music. He is joined by Doug Therrien on bass; Doug Belote playing most of the drums but sharing with Allyn Robinson and Willie Parker; David Hyde on bass for You Look So Good To Me; John Autin on Hammond B-3 organ and Steinway grand piano; A.J. Pittman on trumpet (and horn arrangements); and Ward Smith on tenor and baritone sax.
Chaz kicks off the album with the title track, Sounds Like The Blues To Me. It’s the story of dealing with the pain, and when the heart starts talking it all sounds like the blues. It’s catchy and emotional at the same time. It also shows Chaz’ chops on the guitar as he lets those six strings sing the blues for him.
He gets a little funky with Make Love To You In The Sand which sounds romantic and painful at the same time. Still, the horn section gets a good workout with this bouncy number.
Chaz slows things down and strips the orchestration down with Hitchhiking In The Rain. It’s the late night story of a man who has been tossed out by his woman and he’s trying to find a place to go. It’s one of those perfect bar songs a la One More For My Baby (And One More For The Road), and Autin’s piano is plaintive and lonely. This is a great song that should be getting lots of air play.
The tempo picks up with I Am The Blues, a song that covers a lot of territory. “I was here when Eve bit into that apple, I was here when the first slave was sold…” Chaz points out that everybody needs the blues from time to time and punctuates it with some serious guitar riffs. The lyrics are clever and the music bouncy.
The horn section and Chaz’ guitar get a good workout on You Look So Good To Me. It’s got an old school feeling and is one of those songs you know will chase the folks out of those chairs and get them shaking on the dance floor. It’s a real party song and sure to be a favorite.
You have to love any song with the title Mysterious, Exotic Lady. I’ve fallen in love with more than a few of those in my lifetime. And even if they leave before we meet them, they stay a part of our lives and we wonder about them for years to come. It’s an honest song with some very telling lyrics.
I’m Goin’ After Moby Dick In A Rowboat tells the story of those of us with big big dreams, but who might not have the means to pull it off. I was hooked within seconds of this song and smile at the imagery. It’s a very well written song, funny and poignant at the same time.
More than a few roosters kick off the next song, Four In The Morning. Chaz’ guitar gets a good workout amongst the crowing and you can feel the resignation of the man who has to get up at that God Awful time of the morning and work.
The next song, Will You Be Mine, is a heartbreaker with the singer digging deep into his emotional well to ask that most important question. There comes a time in a relationship where you just have to be with that other person because you both know it’s right. This is that time.
Things start swinging with Walkin’ With My Baby. The lyrics are bouncy and sweet, but it’s the music really drives the song. This is Chaz’ crooning like it’s the late ‘40’s and everyone is optimistic about the future. While he’s walkin’ with one baby, he’s sure playing the heck out of another baby – his guitar. Or maybe, they’re one and the same…
He’s still swinging with The Mt. Vernon Blues, a fun instrumental that gives everyone in the band a chance to shine. I’ve become fascinated with blues instrumentals and the way the music conveys such great emotion. This is a solid addition to that collection.
Chaz offers up a blistering guitar riff to open You’re Bound To Get Us Both Hung. His vocals are gritty and fearful and this is one of those songs that makes you sit up and listen. It’s an interesting choice to end the album on, and it really makes me want to hit that repeat button on the CD player one more time.
SOUNDS LIKE THE BLUES TO ME is such a good album and it has that essential New Orleans feel to it. The great mix of music, the late nights, the beautiful women – it’s always how I remember that amazing city. Chaz’ manages to catch that essence and turn it into an album that’s already on my short list for the best of 2016.
If you want to discover Chaz for yourself, pick up this album (and maybe a few others while you’re at it) and find out where he’s playing next at http://www.jeffchazblues.com/. You won’t go wrong adding him to your collection as all you will want to do is laissez les bon temps rouler!