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Craig Chaquico – Fire Red Moon

Blind Pig

10 tracks; 47 minutes

Confession time. Although blues is mostly what I listen to these days I still enjoy some of the old rock stuff and Jefferson Starship’s mid 80s albums like “Red Octopus” and “Spitfire” are two of my favourites. Part of that enjoyment is the guitar playing on the albums, by a young guitarist called Craig Chaquico. Craig auditioned for Starship on his sixteenth birthday and stayed with the band for twenty years until its break-up in 1990. Since then he has recorded mainly in the new age/smooth jazz idiom and this album is his first foray into the blues (though Craig states that the blues is at the root of all his music).

The band on this album is Craig’s regular road band: Rolf Hartley on vocals and rhythm guitar, Wade Olson on drums, Jim Reitzel on bass and Bill Slais on keys. Album co-producer (with Craig) Bill Heller adds keys throughout and on two tracks a different lead vocalist is used. Seven of the tracks are originals, composed by Craig and Executive Producer Thomas Hyman and cover a fair range of styles from blues-rock to jazzier pieces. The three covers are all well-known blues classics.

The album opens strongly with “Lie To Me” (not the Jonny Lang song), a mid-paced tune with Noah Hunt (Kenny Wayne Shepherd) taking the lead on vocals. Noah is a great vocalist for this sort of blue-rock tune and Craig’s fills on guitar sit nicely above the organ-led arrangement before he takes a strong solo. Another lead vocalist, Eric E. Golbach, sings “Bad Woman” in a whisky-soaked voice that suits the brooding mood of the song well; Eric also supplied all the choral background vocals. We are in slow blues territory here, think Gary Moore in terms of the guitar style and it is a solid track. Regular vocalist Rolf Hartley sings on three songs: “Devil’s Daughter” is in a smoother style which did not work well for me, making it one of the weaker tracks on the CD. “Little Red Shoes” is the most upbeat rocker on the set, a nice slice of rock and roll: “She walked into a roadhouse, they were playing the blues. She got up on stage and started to get down in those little red shoes. She had the whole house rocking, but I couldn’t take my eyes off those little red shoes.” Lots of strong contributions here from Craig and from the piano player – this is probably my favourite cut on the album. Rolf’s third vocal contribution is the uptempo version of “Crossroads” that closes the album. Craig sticks fairly closely to Clapton’s seminal version with Cream in his solo here.

There are five instrumentals. The band’s version of “Born Under A Bad Sign” works fine though it would be hard to identify Albert King’s original here. Craig’s playing is interesting with lots of chopped chords underneath a soaring lead. The cover of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” (here credited to Muddy Waters) is great fun, opening with a frantic handclap beat and lots of slide from Craig. The title track “Fire Red Moon” is another instrumental, a moody piece with strong guitar and a persistent backbeat which does not seem to quite take off. “Blue On Blue” is perhaps the tune that harks back most to Craig’s new age material but it also works well as a slow blues-based tune with a soaring refrain from Craig’s guitar at its centre. “Fogtown Stroll” follows immediately and is a good contrast with its loping beat giving us just a touch of Caribbean lilt.

Although one or two tracks here are a little too close to smooth jazz there is certainly enough good playing and blues-based material here to warrant our attention.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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