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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1705

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Craig Chaquico: Fire Red Moon
by George Graham

(Blind Pig 5149 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/14/2012)

Solo albums by guitarists with hit rock bands are not a rare thing. Sometimes if the band breaks up, the guitarist will continue with a solo career. Often, these solo guitarist records tend to be something of a departure from the band's sound. A lot of them have tended toward jazz-rock fusion, while there have also been a number of New Age influenced albums by guitarists whose reputation was established in the rock world.

This week, we have a new recording by a 30-year veteran of rock bands who has made a mostly blues album. It's Craig Chaquico, known for his work with various incarnations of the Jefferson Airplane and Starship. His new recording is called Fire Red Moon.

Craig Chaquico grew up in Sacramento in a family where both of his parents were musicians. He naturally gravitated toward music. At age 12, he was badly injured in a car crash. His father told him of how Les Paul was injured in an auto accident and how the legendary guitarist made a recovery playing guitar, and that if young Craig would stick with his guitar, practicing however he could while wearing casts, that his father would get him a Les Paul electric guitar. He did and by age 14, Craig was playing professionally. At age 16, he was spotted by Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane and invited to a recording session, and was soon performing and recording on the San Francisco music scene with the likes of the Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and of course, the Jefferson Airplane. His first recording was in 1971 on the Sunfighter album with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. And in 1974, after Kantner and Slick reconfigured and renamed the group as the Jefferson Starship, Chaquico became a full-time member until the band broke up in the 1980s. He has worked extensively as a studio musician and has maintained a solo recording career, including fusion, new age and light instrumental albums, largely on acoustic guitar, enjoying considerable commercial success in the genre, recording some 10 albums.

Fire Red Moon has Chaquico back on electric guitar throughout, and though the CD is stylistically varied, the emphasis is on the blues. Chaquico plays his guitar in a style, however, more typical of fusion than of the blues. Chaquico is not a vocalist, so three lead singers are brought in for this album. But there are a some instrumental tracks. Interestingly, a two of the instrumentals on the album are versions of blues standards that are almost always done vocally.

Chaquico is joined on the album by members of a band who often tour with him, Rolf Hartley on vocals and some additional guitar, Bill Slais on keyboards, Jim Reitzel on bass and Wade Olson on drums. Noah Hunt from the Kenny Wayne Shepard band and Eric E. Golbach are the guest vocalists.

Most of the album consists of original material co-written by Chaquico, Thomas Hyman and Bobby Wyrick.

Leading off is an original called Lie to Me, with a guest vocal by Noah Hunt. <<>> Chaquico's guitar style is reminiscent of Robben Ford, another jazz-rock fusion player who also goes in for the blues. <<>>

An original blues tune that I supposed could be described as more "low down" is Bad Woman with the vocal by Eric E. Golbach. Though the track has its moments, especially Chaquico's guitar parts, the it also veers close to some of the cliche's of the "big rock" sound of the 1970s.

One of the covers of blues standards that Chaquico does instrumentally is Born Under a Bad Sign, made famous by Albert King. Chaquico's guitar work is first rate though the percussion sounds looped or from a drum machine. It's an interesting dichotomy. <<>>

Another blues standard served up sans vocals is Muddy Water's Rollin' and Tumblin'. It's probably Chaquico's most unrestrained, energetic performance on the CD, something he might have done more frequently on this bluesy album. <<>>

Little Red Shoes is a kind of good-time shuffle with a vocal by Rolf Hartley. It's an appealing tune with some tasteful guitar work. <<>>

The title track Fire Red Moon is another instrumental, and an original piece that is just his guitar with drums. It's a kind of extended jam on blues riffs. It's the kind of tune more of interest to guitar junkies, but it's well done. <<>>

There is one track that wanders from the blues into lightweight instrumental pop. Blue on Blue could be a new age tune if it were not for the cranked up guitar. <<>>

The CD ends with a kind of curious hybrid version of Robert Johnson's classic blues Crossroads. The guitar work is strong, but the rhythm has synthesizers and the inflexibility of a drum machine. The mixture of the processed rhythm section and the wailing guitar is hardly traditional blues, but the contrast can be interesting. Rolf Hartley is again the vocalist. <<>>

Veteran guitarist Craig Chaquico's new CD Fire Red Moon marks another aspect in the career of a guitarist who was something of a rock prodigy in his teens, then a frequent studio musician, and who went on to be commercially successful as a new age acoustic guitarist. Now he has plugged in again and is playing the blues, but in a more polished studio treatment. The guitar playing is first rate, for the most part the mixture of ingredients is worthwhile, but it doesn't all work. Those who like their blues in a more traditional raw, authentic way might quibble with this album, but sometimes the hybrid between the blues guitar and rhythm section with its more processed studio sound can be intriguing. It's certainly not the first time that artists have tried to polish up the blues.

Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. Kudos to Chaquico for not trying to sound like an old badly-recorded blues album. The sound is generally clean, but is so often the case, the volume is artificially cranked up by compression to the point that it loses its ebb and flow.

There is no shortage of worthwhile albums by guitarists known for their work with others, either as studio musicians or as members of bands. Craig Chaquico's new CD Fire Red Moon joins that list, with some tasteful, bluesy playing.

(c) Copyright 2012 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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