Veteran West Coast Bluesman Chris Cain Makes Fiery Alligator Records Debut with ‘Raisin’ Cain’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

On his fifteenth release master blues guitarist and vocalist Chris Cain has made it to the top, delivering Raisin’ Cain for the premiere blues label, Alligator Records.  Early in his career, in the ‘90s Cain made three albums for the reputable, now-defunct Blind Pig Records but arguably he’s been on a lower tier of labels since.  Cain did receive wide acclaim for his self-titled release on Little Village in 2017 but he’s long deserved the larger platform that Alligator affords.

This writer had the opportunity to extensively interview Cain in 2017 and witnessed an absolutely searing performance of his at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival a few years prior. So, first-hand, beyond his prodigious guitar and vocal talents Cain has the best qualities of an artist – humility and graciousness.Cain has longed earned his reputation as a musician’s musician. Since his first release in 1987, Cain has forged his very own blues sound inspired by his heroes—B.B. King, Albert King, Ray Charles, Albert Collins, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. His jazz-informed blues guitar playing is fiery, emotional and unpredictable. His vocals—gruff, lived-in and powerful—are unfortunately, according to some, overshadowed by his amazing guitar playing but are among the most deeply soulful of any current blues artist. The pure joy Cain brings to his playing and singing is palpable. Cain can be counted on to give 110% or more in every performance.

With Raisin’ Cain, Chris Cain says he is at a new point in his career. “I’m playing and writing better than ever before. I can say more with less,” he says, referring to his dynamic guitar playing and superb songwriting. “My songs are funky and danceable and my writing is now less personal diary than in the past. I want my songs to tell universal stories.” Like his 2017 album, this one was also recorded in San Jose at producer and multi-instrumentalist Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio.

The album features twelve original Cain compositions. From the opening humorous and rocking “Hush Money” to the deeply autobiographical “Born To Play” to the late-night jazzy blues ofI Don’t Know Exactly What’s Wrong With My Baby,” Cain’s songs deliver uncommon, surprising hooks and riffs coming in rapid-fire succession. On four songs, Cain shows off his stellar keyboard skills, and on the far-out instrumental Space Force, he proves himself a funky and jazzy ARP Soloist player.

Along with Cain is his road-tested band, bassist Steve Evans and keyboardist/organist Greg Rahn, with Chris’ touring drummer Sky Garcia and veteran D’mar Martin (Little Richard, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats) sharing the skins. Additionally, Andersen, as he typically does, adds some guitar and background vocals on some selections. His wife, Lisa Leuschner Andersen adds harmony to “As Long As You Get What You Want’” and the four-piece horn section of Michael Peloquin (saxophones), Mike Rinta (trombone), Jeff Lewis (trumpet), and Doug Rowan (bari sax) appear on five selections.

Esteemed blues writer Dick Shurman provides the liner notes but instead of excerpting from those, perhaps some of the anecdotes from my interview may serve to pique your interest. The first is about his dad, to whom he consistently claims he owes his career. {Cain’s dad was the foundation for his jazz-inspired soulful guitar playing and powerfully deep vocals.  You’ll hear B.B. King and Albert King in Cain’s playing because, through his dad, he started attending their concerts at the age of 3, met them, and, in the case of greats like Albert King and Albert Collins, shared the stage with them. 

“My dad was a truck driver but somehow he always knew where B.B. King and some of his other favorites were playing.  We’d always go there – we never missed a B.B. King or Johnny Otis show.  Man, not just the music but the way these guys would dress…so sharp…it would make them look like they were 18 feet tall.”  Cain goes on to describe his dad.  “My dad had the largest record collection and the biggest hi-fi in the neighborhood.  I can remember him mowing the lawn with Muddy Waters blasting through those speakers. It was cool.  He loved the three Kings but loved piano players too.  Ray Charles, Lloyd Glenn, Otis Spann, and Charles Brown.  You know I went through my Beatles phase and all but what I remember most was all of the great music my parents would play at our house.”

You may have heard hundreds of blues guitarists but understand that Cain has a unique style meshing jazz and blues with as deep emotional feel as any player. But take a listen to this record and marvel at his heartfelt vocals with “Down in the Ground” as just one shining three-minute example of power and soul. If you haven’t heard Cain before now, and even if you have, he’s never sounded better. 

 

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