Chris BadNews Barnes – Bad News Travels Fast | Album Review

Chris BadNews Barnes – Bad News Travels Fast

Gulf Coast Records – 2024

11 tracks; 45 minutes

Chris BadNews Barnes made his name on TV shows like Saturday Night Live, but now that he has released his fifth album since 2017, maybe we should reclassify him as a musician! Chris wrote all the lyrics here, partnering with Tom Hambridge who wrote the music, working at times with long-time collaborator Richard Fleming. Recorded at Tom’s studio in Nashville with Tom in both the drum and producer’s chair, the band is Kenny Greenberg on guitar, Mike Rojas on keys, Tommy MacDonald on bass, Max Abrams on sax, Steve Patrick on trumpet and Tabitha Fair on backing vocals; guests include Jimmy Hall, Sugaray Rayford and Walter Trout.

The first four tracks feature the guest artists. The album kicks off in high gear with the title track, a full-on rocker with strong guitar and Jimmy Hall’s harp setting the pace as Chris bemoans the gossippers: “Some folks like to run their mouths, I wish that they would zip it, for once that cat is out of the bag the tail’s too long to clip it”. The pace softens for “Pure Blues”, a classic tale of the eternal triangle, with Walter Trout adding searing guitar.”You Right Baby” brings in Sugaray who adds spoken words to the dialogue between Chris and Tabitha, Chris’ criticisms of his girl always coming out differently to his intentions, and Jimmy Hall makes a second appearance on “A Bluesman Can’t Cry”, a fine track with sensitive lyrics: “A bluesman, pain is his only friend, but a bluesman, he can’t cry, he’s got to suffer for his sins”.

Chris is known for his humorous songs, following in the hokum traditions, and “The Juice Ain’t Worth The Squeeze” is Chris’ conclusion after spending time with a woman, his observations given over a fast-paced tune enhanced by the horns. Two songs include the word ‘baby’, but have different intentions: “Bluesballer Baby” is a fake ‘live’ track, purporting to be from a NYC club, the band being ‘Chris BadNews Barnes and the Bluesballers’ who rock out as Chris namechecks blues events like the BMAs and various festivals; in contrast “His Majesty The Baby” pokes fun at a guy who acts childishly and selfishly – is it self-criticism or is the song aimed at another well known figure? “Skin To Skin” may be as close to a love song that you will get from Chris, the slide and organ playing here really drive the tune along.

Opening with acoustic guitar and a slight border feel, Chris claims that he was “Ambushed By The Blues” and asks “how can a man escape”. This song drops the ‘character’ and humorous asides and is arguably the strongest cut on the album. However, Chris is soon back to his usual style on “Do The Houdini”, another slice of life in Hell’s Kitchen, and the closing play on words of “Mushrooms Make Me A Fun Guy”, recycling the old joke that has made generations of kids laugh. Both these tracks were a little disappointing for this reviewer, Chris using a semi-spoken style (and some distortion on “Mushrooms”).

Chris’ gruff vocals suit the material well and the guests enliven the first four tracks.

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