Chris Bergson – All I Got Left
Continental Blue Heaven
10 songs – 40 minutes
Covid-19 has given us precious little to celebrate over the last 18 months but, without diminishing the terrible suffering it has inflicted on so many, the pandemic has inspired the release of a number of superb albums with writers and musicians seemingly galvanised by what they are witnessing, and recordings being produced in novel ways.
All I Got Left, the latest effort from New York City guitarist, singer and songwriter, Chris Bergson, is a prime example of this. Recorded live over two days in March 2021 at Brooklyn’s Excello Recording studio, the album is an intimate, stripped-down effort, with Bergson’s electric guitar the only accompaniment to his glorious blue-eyed soul vocals, in sharp contrast to his previous band-focussed material. Producer and engineer Hugh Pool has captured a warm, live sound, as if Bergson were just playing and singing in his front room to a small group of close friends.
The ten songs on All I Got Left include some new Bergson songs, some re-recordings of previously released tracks and some fascinating covers. The title track, which opens the album, sets the tone perfectly as Bergson extracts a variety of beautiful tones from his guitar as his voice laments the events of the pandemic: “So let’s keep in our hearts those who didn’t make it. Say one for John Prine and my friend, Marc. Those stranded alone in nursing homes, watching the sky fade from black to dark. Isolation and loss, what will be the human cost?” But he consistently finds reason for hope. His closing line that “I love you with all I got left” raises an optimistic, positive note in a period of overwhelming pain. The track also showcases Bergson’s impressive ability to play rhythm guitar and lead guitar simultaneously, mixing jazz-blues single note runs with passing chords.
The sparse guitar backing throughout the album only emphasises the strength and variety of the songs. “Laid Up With My Bad Leg In Lennox”, a co-wrote with frequent Bergson collaborator, Ellis Hooks, hits a funky ZZ Top-esque groove with keening slide guitar, while “Hector And Donna” is a finger-picked ballad that sounds like Chris Smither were the great man to pick up an electric guitar. “Low Hanging Clouds” has more of a soul feel with more outstanding chordal work mixed with complex single note runs as Bergson remembers a walk along the New York waterfront. Glenn Patscha’s “Last Lullaby” is re-imagined with a gospel-soul feel, while Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” is slowed to a hauntingly funereal pace that only adds more depth to the foreboding lyrics. This song closes the album, and its words are startlingly apposite given the empty streets of NYC during the lockdown: “Seen the arrow on the doorpost saying, ‘This land is condemned, all the way from New Orleans To Jerusalem.’”
Bergson’s warm, bluesy voice fits the material perfectly, recalling at times the magic of Eric Lindell and he imbues each song with humanity, warmth and hope. He is also a top-notch guitarist, whether letting rip with his slide on Richard Julian’s “Cheap Guitar”, nailing a rollicking rock’n’roll groove on Chuck Berry’s “Back To Memphis”, or finger-picking the wistful “Silver Surfer”, an instrumental dedicated a late friend that sounds like something Jimmy Page wishes he’d written in one of his more folky moods.
All I Got Left is a formidable release from Bergson. There is really nothing not to like about it.