Chris BadNews Barnes – BadNews Rising
Vizztone Label Group – 2021
10 tracks; 40.47 minutes
Chris Barnes made his name doing comedy on shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm but since 2017 he has reinvented himself as a blues singer specializing in hokum songs. ‘Hokum’ is defined on Chris’ own website as “a particular song type of American blues music – a humorous song which uses extended analogies or euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos”. After an initial album in 2017 Hokum Blues which revisited songs from the original masters of the style, Chris was recorded live on the LRBC and now gives us an album of original music written by Chris and producer Tom Hambridge (with help on three tracks from John Hahn, Terry Abrahamson and John Murray), many drawn from that hokum tradition, particularly songs with titles like “Texas Weiner” and “I Like Cleavage”!
The album was produced by Tom at his Nashville studio with Tom in the drum seat, alongside session regulars like Kevin McKendree on keys, Tommy MacDonald on bass and Pat Buchanan on guitar and occasional harmonica; horns are added to some tracks by Max Abrams (sax) and Steve Patrick (trumpet) and B/V’s are courtesy of Rachel and Sarah Hambridge.
With his rough-hewn vocals Chris starts with two autobiographical songs. “You Wanna Rock? You Gotta Learn The Blues” starts with echoey slide and works over a slow and steady Mississippi beat as Chris describes how the blues is the base of every type of rock music, echoing Willie Dixon’s famous line that “the blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits”. Chris recalls vividly “When Koko Came To Town”, transforming his usually empty club (“I’d hook ‘em with the hokum, get paid in Jack and Coke”) into a sold-out night, the horns adding additional fire to a fine tribute to the late Queen Of The Blues.
The band adds a touch of funk to the music as Chris tells us that he’ll be “scattin’ in Latin” on “Quid Pro Quo” before “My Baby Be Cray Cray Cray” opens with Kevin’s piano and the horns before Chris offers marital advice to his nephew about his apparently rather dangerous wife! A change of pace comes with “I Slow Danced With Joni Mitchell”, a lovely tune with Pat’s ethereal slide set against acoustic guitar and piano, another autobiographical song in which Chris recounts some of his early life, seemingly influenced by the music of the time (“I got sober with Slowhand”).
The introspection of that tune gives way to more of the hokum style as Chris boasts that “Chicks Dig Me”, set against heavy guitar chords and fiery B3 work. It seems that Chris is attractive to every type of girl: “Nurses and barmaids, small town librarians, middle school teachers, even handsome lesbians”! Pat’s harp features on the slow groove of “The Creamy Caramel Cafe”, a place that Chris frequents to meet the divorcee who runs it, an opportunity for plenty of innuendo involving desserts! “Kettle Black” rocks it up again with thunderous drums and guitar as Chris complains about criticisms when the critic does the very same thing.
The album closes with the two songs mentioned earlier: “Texas Weiner” is a classic piece of comic writing as Chris’ girl has been attracted to the local hot dog salesman, all played to a rocking tune with the girls adding some fun backing vocals – you can’t help but smile and sing along! The horns return for “I Like Cleavage” in which Chris uses the female attributes as a metaphor for balancing left and right:”it’s the merging of both sides, the pairing of the two. We can all be bosom buddies and share the same view; I support cleavage and hope you do too”! If you are easily offended these two tracks will probably upset you, but they are certainly comic and brilliantly performed by the band.
This is definitely Chris’ best disc to date. Take with a large pinch of salt lyrically and then enjoy.