John McLean, Charles Barkatz & Friends – Shadow Man | Album Review

John McLean, Charles Barkatz & Friends – Shadow Man

TreeTops Records

10 songs – 44 minutes

Here’s one of the most surprising albums you’ll hear this year. American jazz flute and bagpipe virtuoso John McLean teams with French guitarist Charles Barkatz and all-star band from Austin to make his debut as a blues artist on this disc, and the results are a spectacular blend of interesting grooves that will have you yearning for more.

A fixture in the Paris music scene for decades and age 80, John has served as leader of several ensembles, including the Fairweather Quintet and the John McLean Quartet, a partnership with three of the foremost jazz artists in the U.S.: guitarist Paul Bollenback, flautist/sax player Alex Coke and bassist Ed Howard. He and Charles, a guitarist, frequently work in duo settings, too.

In his early 60s, Barkatz grew up in France heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix, but turned to jazz after witnessing Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell live. When not working with McLean, he performs in multiple settings with pianist Patt Burter, frequently delivering music inspired by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. He also has a footprint in America, playing regularly at the Five O’Clock Club and Blue Rooster in Sarasota, Fla., with guitarist/vocalist Al Fuller and in Tampa with singer Pete D’Straw.

A follow-up to their 2019 CD, So Nice to Come Home To, McLean and Barkatz share vocals here under the direction of Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, one of the top producers in the Austin music scene. They’re backed by Kazanoff’s Texas Horns – Mark on tenor sax and harmonica, John Mills on baritone sax and Al Gomez on trumpet – with a lineup that includes Derek O’Brien on guitar, Nick Connolly on keys, Chris Maresh on upright and electric bass and John Chipman on percussion. They’re augmented by guest appearances from Alex Cole on soprano sax and flute and Elaine Barber on harp.

Barkatz adds guitar, but McLean sets his instruments aside to let his voice do the work, sounding a lot like John Mayall in the process, beginning with “Leaky Shoes Blues,” a driving shuffle that describes being stuck in a rainstorm. A thoroughly contemporary number, it’s propelled by jazzy, deep-azure guitar runs and features a stellar muted trumpet solo. The horn section opens “The Brooklyn Blues Café,” which pays tribute to a Paris nightspot that’s certain to offer respite from the storm.

The album quiets dramatically for the ballad “Lucia,” a love song that imagines dancing under the moon on a beach by the bay, accented by light and sweet guitar runs throughout. The tempo quicks for the highly danceable “Shadow Man,” which features Maresh powering a funky bottom before the full band joins in. “She Cry Blues,” meanwhile, is an interesting, slow blues that describes a lady who’s in tears morning, noon and night over the loss of a daughter as the singer wishes for a way to bring her back again.

The heartache continues in “Sister of Mine,” an understated, jazzy blues that yearns for a reunion after leaving for reasons that aren’t explained, and the harmonica-driven “Bathtub Blues,” which is delivered from the point of view of a man soaking his troubles away after losing his lady because he kept cheating.

Barkatz takes to the mic for the haunting “Silver Lake,” which is delivered in French and describes birds gliding in the sky above a troubled world. “Black Train” chugs along with more stellar guitar runs before the Chicago blues, “New Life,” ends the action on an upbeat note.

Available through most major retailers, Shadow Man provides unequivocal proof that the blues – both classy and easy/greasy – run through McLean and Barkatz’s veins. It’s too bad it’s taken them so long to make this side trip from the jazz world because it’s a treasure!

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