Chris Duarte Group
Tailspin Headwhack
Silvertone 01241-41611-2
At first glance, Chris Duarte looks like any other bar-room rocker: Elbow-length ponytail, frayed jeans, cut-up T-shirt, battered Stratocaster.

But let there be no mistake, Duarte is different. Though routinely -- and unfairly -- typecast as one of a few thousand Jimi-Stevie wannabes, the guitarist spends most of his off-stage time listening to John McLaughlin, John Coltrane and post-Bitch's Brew Miles Davis. Hendrix and Vaughan are major influences, sure, but it's not like they're his only influences.

Duarte's music isn't that simple. His first big-label release, the hard rocking Texas Sugar/Strat Magic, surprised a lot of people with its brilliant recklessness. But there's nothing reckless about Tailspin Headwhack. It's painstakingly crafted: Duarte recorded Texas Sugar in a week; this one took two months. The blues undercurrent is still present, and Duarte rocks hard, but Tailspin Headwhack is much thicker, the outside influences more diverse. Get out the headphones, 'cause we're talking tape loops, hip-hop rhythms, wah-wah pedals, a little sampling and some serious funk.

Much has been made of Duarte's audacity in taking on B.B. King's classic "The Thrill Is Gone." So what? Duarte's version has nothing to do with King's; the words are the same, but that's about it. This is bold stuff. If Jimi the Great were still with us, you know he wouldn't have a problem with Duarte's funk-and-power approach.

Snippets of the Hendrix and Vaughan influences appear throughout Tailspin Headwhack, but especially on "Drivin' South," a Curtis Knight and the Squires tune from Hendrix's early BBC sessions, and on the stark-and-dark ".32 Blues."

Also on the menu: "Cleopatra," a Junior Medlow tune that Duarte reworked into a stunning rocker; "People Say," classic funk from the Meters; "Crazy," a song originally done by the Vanguards, an Austin-area band that once included Duarte's long-time bassist, John Jordon; and "Crimino," Duarte's thoughts after someone stole the band's equipment in New York.

"Walls" is Duarte's ode to Kurt Cobain. Though well-intended, it's a little too alternative and abrasive for this outing. Fortunately, it's the final track and doesn't get in the way.

If Duarte keeps this up, the comparisons with Vaughan and Hendrix are sure to continue because, like them, he's a genius.

-- Dave Ranney

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.