Chaquico has been a somewhat prolific solo artist these past few years, plying a jazz-inflected instrumental sound that typically falls on the Adult Contemporary side of the fence, his most recent album, 2009’s Follow the Sun, kind of a “smooth jazz” breakthrough yielding a minor hit with the Kenny G composition “Songbird.” Considering his background, the guitarist would seem an ill fit with the blues ‘n’ roots mainstay Blind Pig Records, but here he is with Fire Red Moon, Chaquico’s debut for the label and a decent enough effort to start with.
Craig Chaquico’s Fire Red Moon
First, the bad news – Rolf Hartley, who sings the bulk of the non-instrumental tracks here, may be a longtime friend of the guitarist, but he’s just not that great a voice. For example, on Chaquico’s “Devil’s Daughter,” a bluesy tune that cries out for a dirty, gritty vocal instead offers up Hartley’s lightweight, Don Henley-styled croon, making the song sound like an outtake from the Eagles’ Hotel California. He has little presence on any of the songs that he appears on, and his vocals on Robert Johnson’s masterpiece “Crossroads” are lackluster and overwrought to the point of almost overshadowing some of the excellent fretwork that Chaquico is laying down in the background. The best part of the performance here definitely belongs to Chaquico, who takes Eric Clapton’s original blueprint for the song and pumps it full of life and vigor in spite of Hartley’s duff vocals.
Much better is the effort of singer Noah Hunt – Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s longtime frontman – who guests on Chaquico’s original “Lie To Me” and brings a bluesy, emotional gravitas to the performance that Hartley sorely lacks. Next time around, Chaquico should rope Hunt into the studio for a few more tunes. Another guest vocalist, Eric E. Golbach, makes what appears to be his big-league debut on “Bad Woman” and it isn’t half-bad, Golbach and his gravelly vocals displaying a real sense of heartbreak on the lyrics, the performance bolstered by Chaquico’s melancholy guitarplay dancing in the background.
As for the good news about Fire Red Moon, the album offers several fine showcases for the guitarist’s underrated skills, an instrumental take on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’“ perfectly capturing the song’s freewheeling locomotive vibe, while the album’s title track mixes blues and jazz together like B.B. King, displaying great tone and texture in equal and entertaining measures. The hauntingly beautiful “Blue On Blue” is a gentler, more ethereal sort of “Little Wing,” i.e. Jimi Hendrix channeled through Stevie Ray Vaughan and filtered through Ronnie Montrose before emerging from the fingertips of Craig Chaquico with his own unique flourishes.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
While Fire Red Moon isn’t as bluesy (or even blues-rock) as many of us may like, Chaquico is an exceptional musician who, should he decide to walk further down this path (maybe with Hunt in tow), could have a bright future with this thing we call the blues. Grade: B- (Blind Pig Records, released October 16, 2012)