Back when Cream disbanded, Eric Clapton said he wanted to be a part of a group where songs, not jamming, were the focus. The Band was mentioned as the type of collective he was attracted to, but Clapton never worked with the Band, at least at that time. Blues/roots guitarist Chris Bergson seems to lean in a similar direction, yet instead of joining an existing act, he just started his own. The helping hand of Band member Levon Helm has provided a career lift for the up-and-coming guitarist with encouragement, and perhaps more importantly, by letting him record this album in his Woodstock, New York studio. Inevitably, there is a strong Band feel to much of this, not just in the soulful, song-based playing, but in the arrangements and overall homespun feel of the music. There's a good bit of soloing by Bergson but nearly as much by his tenor player Jay Collins, and both keep their leads tight, succinct, and within the song structures. Bergson has a gutsy, R&B-styled voice -- gritty yet appealing -- that falls somewhere between Dr. John, Gregg Allman, and the Band's Richard Manuel. There is a tough jazz feel to many of these arrangements, not unusual since Bergson's background is as a sideman to jazz singers such as Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson. Covers of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears" further cement the Band/Manuel connections. Standup bassist Chris Berger's supple accompaniment masterfully strides the blues, jazz, and soul genres, and is integral to Bergson's overall sound. Helm's daughter Amy, a member of Ollabelle, adds vocals to a few tunes, most impressively on "Rain Beatin' Down," arguably the album's most rootsy moment with elements of Delta blues in Bergson's sharp slide work. Some songs, such as "The Engine," creatively take what might have been a straightforward, riff-based blues-rocker in others' hands and skew them toward jazz with nods to Steely Dan and chord changes that don't go where you expect. Collins' sax work, which almost moves to avant-garde territory but stops just short, helps bring a unique element to Bergson's slant. A thoroughly distinctive cover of Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" that injects a jazz/R&B edge to the song further proves that Bergson can lay his stamp on other's material without losing the intent of the original. It makes for an invigorating and challenging album that indicates a bright future for this talented musician who has corralled his diverse influences to create an identifiable sound.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz