The name Sean Chambers rang a distant bell when I first opened his latest album, Trouble & Whiskey on American Showplace Music. When I couldn’t place it, I just put it down to my Swiss Cheese Memory and slid it into my CD player to give it a listen.
That sound was so familiar. I dug out his paperwork, and that’s when the distant bell got a lot closer. This was the guy work played with Hubert Sumlin and even served as his bandleader until 2003. His guitar licks are among the best I’ve ever heard.
Okay, now I’m really intrigued. Within about a minute of the first song, I knew that Sean Chambers was the real deal. His guitar work is amazing, and he takes leads that just make the hairs stand up on the back of your head. His vocals are strong, but his guitar is on a different plane altogether. Plus, he’s assembled a great group of musicians to add even more punch to his songs.
The core group consists of Chambers on vocals and guitars; Kris Schnebelen on drums; Todd Cook on bass; and Michael Hensley on Hammond B3 and piano. Special guests include Andrei Koribanics adding percussion on two numbers; John Ginty playing Hammond B3 on one; and Jimmy Bennett playing guitar on one as well.
Chambers wrote or co-wrote all but three of the songs on the album.
The album starts off with a number with some serious swamp funk with I Need Your Lovin. It has those great blues chops and sets the table for what will surely be a fun album. This one should appeal to blues purists as well as those that like a little rock in the mix.
Next up is a song many of us can identify with, Bottle Keeps Staring At Me. There were many nights when I had the same thought. This one has some serious blues in it – I mean, look at that title, will ya? It’s a great number with some great guitar work, and I guarantee you’ll be hearing this one on Time For The Blues as well as probably every other blues show in the country.
Chambers follows up with the title track, Trouble & Whiskey, an ode to two things that always seemed to go hand in hand in my life. Again, his guitar work is superlative and this time he’s using a slow blues burn to tell this dark story. It’s a great follow up to the previous song and makes a strong one-two punch of drinking blues. This is another song that is going to receive a lot of airplay.
He gets a little funky with Travelin North, with Chambers’ guitar sharing the spotlight with Hensley’s Hammond B3. It’s a very strong number that brings out the best in the musicians. I’m always drawn to instrumentals as that really showcases the band’s abilities and they are often the best collaborations. Good work here, with some progressive rock and jazz influences.
The next three songs are the only ones Chambers did not write or co-write. First up is Johnny Copeland’s Cut Off My Right Arm, and Chambers and Company do a credible job with their interpretation. Copeland is one of the greats of the blues and this version does him proud.
The traditional song, Bullfrog Blues, here arranged by Rory Gallagher, follows, and the mix of traditional and modern blues makes this song really work. As you might expect, the guitar is the star of this number and the pace is right up there with most punk anthems. It’s cool and dangerous at the same time.
B.B. King’s Sweeter Than A Honey Bee gets the Chambers treatment. While the two seem like they are worlds apart in their approach to the guitar, both push their styles to the limit, trying to push those limits further and further out. Here he uses a steel guitar to achieve one sound, while the band takes a different, more frenetic approach. It comes together nicely.
Handyman has a crunchy sound with some hard rock mixed in with his blues. While James Taylor explored the same themes with his folksy approach, Chambers has an edge that could cut through metal. Be forewarned, this one is one of those songs that begs to be played loud, and it comes with its own attitude.
Next up is the blistering blues of Be Careful With A Fool. Listen to that amazing guitar run and Chambers’ vocals add a dimension to the song that’s chilling. I love the control he exhibits on this song – it’s a true blues number that should get a lot of attention.
The album winds up on Gonna Groove, and as you might expect from the title, it gets a little funky. Chambers has proved on a few of these songs that he mixes his blues with funk and gets a righteous sound. I enjoy his approach very much and will definitely be following his career.
Trouble & Whiskey is Sean Chambers’ sixth release which means I need to go looking for his first five. If anyone reading this blog happens to own a cool record store and wants to start selling blues CDs to me at a substantial discount, I would be very grateful.
If not, I’ll be haunting the usual places. Starting with his website, http://www.seanchambers.com/ and I’ll be looking to see where he’s going to be touring as well. Chambers is a unique voice in the blues and one helluva guitar player, and once you hear him, you’re going to want more.