Chris Beard – Pass It On Down
Blue Heart Records – 2023
10 tracks; 44 minutes
Born into a musical family, Chris Beard took after his father, Joe, by picking up the guitar at age 5; apparently his Dad was disappointed that he started so late! Growing up among visitors to his home like Buddy Guy and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, Chris started his recording career back in the 1990’s and has released several albums since then, but this new effort, released on the Blue Heart label, looks like a major step forward. There are five remastered cuts, plus five new recordings, Chris on lead guitar and vocals throughout. The band on the older recordings is Brother Wilson on rhythm guitar, John Tucker on keys, Marvin Parker on bass and Carlton Campbell on drums; on the new recordings Carlton retains the drum seat, alongside Phillip Campbell on rhythm guitar, Jonathan Curry or Darryl Cathey on keys and Richard Rodolph on bass. One track was recorded in Louisiana with Kenny Neal and family members: Kenny producing and playing rhythm guitar, Frederick on keys, Darnell on bass and Gralin Hoffman on drums. In addition backing vocals on some tracks are by Mary Ellen Haden or Duane Beard and Quin Lawrence adds horns to some of the new recordings. Apart from the Kenny Neal-produced track everything was recorded close to home in Rochester, NY. Chris wrote eight of the ten songs, one with Johnny Rawls, and there are two covers.
The five remastered tracks come from the independently released 2015 album Eye Of The Witch. “When Love Come Knocking” and “Let the Chips Fall” are funky numbers with horn stabs provided by keyboard player John Tucker: in the former Chris recognizes that you have to take the opportunity when it arises, in the latter he bemoans the behavior of his partner, a situation which seems to affect his guitar playing as he plays torrents of anguished notes. The other three tracks are all ballads: “Keeps Me Believing” finds Chris expressing his continuing need for love in a warm love song; soaring guitar introduces “House Of Shame”, another soulful ballad in which Chris is the one who “broke the rules” and is left all alone; then we get a moving song with tragic lyrics about a young, abandoned girl forced into prostitution in order to try to buy her way out of the city, and what happens when she gets pregnant, in essence her whole life is “One More Cry For Love”. A sensitive ballad written by Colin Linden, Gary Nicholson and Kimmie Rhodes, this tune has choral vocals and some fine playing from Chris and is the pick of the older cuts.
Chris finds himself attracted to a “Big Girl” in a bar and “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’” is uptempo with the horns riffing behind Chris’ almost rap-like vocals and guitar: “Love don’t come from unicorns or fairy godmothers; if you want a true love come get with this brother”. Perhaps such experiences were the inspiration for Chris seeing himself as “Bitter Baby”, a slow blues that features some fine piano. Dad Joe shares vocals and guitar with Chris on the autobiographical “Pass It On Down”, a co-write with Johnny Rawls who contributes to the backing vocals. The two generations of Beards exchange some lovely choruses on guitar. Written by the late Bob Greenlee, “Son I Never Knew” appeared on Kenny Neal’s Devil Child album in 1989 and is here re-worked with soulful intensity, notably from Chris’ guitar.
Chris Beard has a particularly sure touch on the ballads but can also up the pace, showing himself to be an all-round modern bluesman.
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