Chris Cain – Raisin’ Cain
Alligator Records ALCD 5003
12 songs – 44 minutes
One of the most talented multi-instrumentalists of his generation, Chris Cain has flirted with superstardom since the ‘80s, when his debut album, Late Night City Blues, garnered four W.C. Handy Award nominations, including guitarist and band of the year. But he should finally ascend to his rightful place in the blues heavens with this CD, his first release on his first major label since the ‘90s.
A native of San Jose, Calif., Cain literally grew up in the blues thanks to his father, who regaled him with stories about his youth on Beale Street in Memphis. He attended his first B.B. King concert at age three, saw Ray Charles frequently and taught himself how to play the six-string at age eight. His skills became so prodigious that, when asked, B.B. replied: “Chris Cain? Now that boy can play guitar!”
Chris started playing professionally in his teens, and studied music at San Jose City College, quickly becoming an instructor in jazz improvisation himself. As an adult he also became proficient on piano, tenor sax, clarinet and bass, too. But his jazz training and songwriting talent – which fuses emotional torment and wry observations about life in troubled times into a cohesive package – that makes him stand out from the crowd.
He initially made a name for himself as a member of the Ford Blues Band, where he traded licks with guitar god Robben. He signed to the Fords’ Blues Rock’It Records for his solo debut followed by three discs for Blind Pig and then four more for the family in the early ‘90s. In recent years, he’s received two Blues Music Association nominations as guitar player of the year, and he was a 2021 finalist for entertainer of the year.
This all-original album, his first for Alligator, is a long-awaited follow-up to his self-titled 2017 CD on the Little Village Foundation imprint. Like that one, this disc was produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studio and features a coterie of world-class talent. Cain plays guitar and keys and delivers vocals in his distinctive, booming baritone throughout backed by Kid on six-strings and melodica.
The roster also includes Greg Rhan on keys, a horn section composed of Michael Peloquin (saxes and arrangements), Mike Rinta (trombone), Jeff Lewis (trumpet) and Doug Rowan (baritone sax) with Steve Evans on bass and Derreck “D-Mar” Martin and Sky Garcia on drums. Lisa Leuschner Andersen contributes backing vocals on one cut.
Chris is at the absolute top of his game from the opening bars of the toe-tapper “Hush Money,” which deals with the realization that a man’s got to had over a pile of cash to keep his lady happy and a roof over his head. His guitar stings and the horns propel the bottom as he drives the message home. Relationship issues continue in ”You Won’t Have a Problem When I’m Gone,” a driving shuffle that finds the singer fed up after a decade of being blamed for everything that’s gone wrong. Cain’s initial solo is brief, but bites deep in concert to his words and is quickly followed by a lengthier one to end.
The focus of “Too Many Problems” shifts somewhat with Chris wondering why he should carry on while losing all hope and facing too many bills to pay. No wonder he’s “Down on the Ground,” as he states in the ballad with a universal theme that follows, a complaint against folks who kick you and turn their backs on you when you really could use a helping hand.
“I Believe I Got Off Cheap” puts a different spin on a difficult love affair. In this one, Cain cooks on guitar and rejoices vocally after he releases how much better off he is to find his woman in the arms of another man. A quiet keyboard/six-string interlude opens “Can’t Find a Good Reason,” an unhurried shuffle in while Chris recognizes the end of a relationship, a theme that continues in “Found a Way to Make Me Say Goodbye.”
Cain describes his childhood in the autobiographical “Born to Play” before the jazzy, minor-key “I Don’t Know Exactly What’s Wrong with My Baby” and the introspective, apologetic “Out of My Head.” Two more pleasers – the relationship-based slow blues “As Long as You Get What You Want” and the jazzy instrumental “Space Force” – bring the action to a close.
Run, don’t walk, to buy this one. Contemporary blues at its absolute best, Raisin’ Cain is certain to receive major consideration the next time awards season rolls around.