Artist: Chris Bergson
Album: Bitter Midnight
Label: 2 Shirts
Release Date: 04/07/2017
Chris Bergson certainly impressed me with his 2011 Imitate the Sun, displaying a knack for songwriting and both guitar versatility and virtuosity, not seen in many blues artists. 2014’s Live at Jazz Standard and his many live shows I’ve been privileged to see since had me looking forward to this new effort with much anticipation.
Chris has what most guitarists want most of all—feel. He plays concisely, economically, and with just the right dose of emotion without showboating. I’ve seen him play in the style of Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, and Steve Cropper. He can handle all of those styles easily but fortunately, he is an original who either penned or co-penned with co-lyricist Kate Ross, all eleven tracks. Additionally, his singing has a soulful quality that comes across convincingly.
Chris assembled an elite group of musicians for this effort including soul singer Ellis Hooks (“Knuckles & Bones” and “Bitter Midnight”), baritone saxophonist Jay Collins (Gregg Allman), trumpeter Steve Bernstein (Levon Helm Band), drummers Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors) and Tony Mason (Darlene Love), bassists Andy Hess (Gov’t Mule), Richard Hammond (Joan Osborne), Matt Clohesy (Patti Austin), and keyboardist/tenor saxophonist Craig Dreyer (Dispatch). Bergson says, “Some of the guys, like Richard Hammond, Aaron Comess, and Tony Mason, I’ve been playing with for years but had never recorded with before, so it was nice to finally document the rapport we’ve developed over many gigs.”
The album is informed by Bergson’s extensive recent European tours where Bergson did his share of sight-seeing during the days. You’ll hear references to French cognac and Monet paintings in “5:20.” The soul ballad “Just Before the Storm” appeared on Live at Jazz Standard and is rendered a bit differently here with Bergson instead of Hooks on the lead vocal. “Knuckles & Bones” features Bergson’s working band of Dryer, Clohesy, and Mason with killer horn arrangements from Collins and the vocals from co-writer Hooks. “Explode or Contain,” likely influenced by the Belgian and Paris bombings, has searing slide guitar from Bergson and the closing title track features Hooks’ vocal again with the horns of Bernstein and Collins. Bergson’s guitar lines echo two of his heroes, Hubert Sumlin and Freddie King.
Past Bergson albums have earned high accolades here as well in other major music media. This will prove to be one of the best blues releases in 2017.