Proving that the blues not only sees no color but also no country, Chris Duarte unites with Bluestone Company, the biggest blues band in Japan, for a collaboration called 396. Of course, duet albums have a long, storied tradition within the blues -- Junior Wells played with Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter revived Muddy Waters' career, British bands like the Yardbirds supported their hero Sonny Boy Williamson -- so this doesn't feel opportunistic, although it's clearly a way for Duarte to consolidate his Japanese following and get Bluestone Company some exposure stateside. In that regard, 396 isn't a particularly free-flowing jam session, but the album suggests that Bluestone Company aren't really about loose-limbed jams anyway. They're a tight, efficient outfit, working precision rhythms that never lose sight of the pocket, and they show a peculiar fondness for funkifying their groove, which makes them feel less like a blues band than a blues-inflected bar band. This doesn't give Duarte a whole lot of room to roam -- this is hardly a showcase for his guitar the way 2008's Vantage Point or 2007's Blue Velocity were and his vocals are too close-miked for comfort -- but it does speak well for him as a collaborator and for Bluestone Company as a supporting band that they could find a comfortable common ground, one that's partway between their two strengths. Granted, this common ground can sound like a weird, stiff jam from Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan's co-headlining tour from 1990 -- only with less complicated polyrhythms -- but hardcore fans of either artist will find something to enjoy in this cross-pollination.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine