The blues-roots guitarist Chris Duarte has released “Half As Good As Two,” featured on his 15th studio album ‘Ain’t Giving Up,” out April 14th via Provogue Records. “While Beth and I were throwing around ideas for songs, she sent me a sound recording from her phone that had the basics of ‘Half as Good,’ and I was admiring the simplicity of the song,” Duarte recalls, referring to the Austin based songwriter Beth Lee. “She originally called it ‘Half as Good as You.’ Beth and I finished writing the rest of the song, and when I went into the studio to record, Dennis Herring our producer started to like the word play and double meaning of replacing You with Two. We liked the coyness of it and so we put it down.”
Featuring a wide range of outlaw blues, Americana, roots, and even alt-country influences, ‘Ain’t Giving Up’ finds the Austin, Texas guitarist teaming up for the first time in 22 years with producer-guitarist Dennis Herring, also known for his work with artists like Buddy Guy, Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, and the Hives. But the resulting album isn’t a calculated return to roots affair. Recorded live on the studio floor with vintage gear and minimal overdubs, it’s a raw and revved-up showcase for the virtuoso’s jaw-dropping chops; his mastery of the elusive Texas shuffle; and his deep love and commitment to the blues.
“Half As Good As Two” follows the release of the album’s lead single, the super-charged Allman Brother-style riffy blues-rocker, “Nobody But You.”
Duarte dropped his sophomore album, ‘Texas Sugar Strat Magik,’ in 1994, and it sold an excess of 100,000 units. Duarte went on to win the highly coveted “Best New Talent” in Guitar Player’s Reader’s Poll, and he finished fourth in the magazine’s “Best Blues Guitarist” category, behind legends Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and B.B. King. He would go on to issue a string of critically-acclaimed blues, blues-rock albums, and experimental fusion-tinged albums.
‘Ain’t Giving Up’ siphons from the same spirit as ‘Texas Sugar,’ but the new album is definitely its own monster. The album was tracked live as a trio with ‘Texas Sugar’ drummer Brannen Temple, but it also features a rhythm machine with some raw, looped beat patterns Duarte plays over, much like the same funky groove stylings as on J.J. Cale’s iconic 1971 album ‘Naturally.’ “This album explores a wider spectrum of musicality,” shares Duarte. “I love Muddy Water and Howlin’ Wolf, but also feel like it’s part of me to introduce some unexpected influences. For this album, I didn’t feel scared to explore beyond hard-driving blues. I view this as expanding on the format that I love.”
“I planted my flag with ‘Strat Magik,’ and on this album, I am pushing the music forward,” Duarte continues. “I’ve explored lots of different facets of my playing, but this album says, ‘I’m here, and I’m not giving up on blues or my career.’ And I’m not playing it safe, either—the solos were all tracked live.”
Duarte has been known for his physical and athletic playing style—he often plays so hard his fingers bleed while he’s onstage (there are photos to prove this legend). Because of this fiery dedication, many fans and critics have playfully referred to his music as “punk blues” or “rockin’ blues.” “My style is super aggressive and physical,” Duarte affirms. “These days I’m a bit older, but I still put as much heart into my playing as I ever did—I still love playing.”
The guitarist, singer, and songwriter came up as a force to be reckoned with in the 1990s Austin, Texas roots and blues scene. He rose to prominence in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s passing, and was noted for his muscular playing style; his jazz and rock n’ roll-infused blues solos; and his command of the Texas blues tradition. Since those early days, Duarte has carved his own niche through a series of beloved blues-flavored albums, and a calendar of more than 150 dates a year which includes performances billed as Chris Duarte and as The Chris Duarte Group. In both of these contexts, Duarte has headlined major festivals and clubs throughout the US, Canada, Japan, and Europe.
Reunited with Herring who produced his best-selling record, Duarte instantly found a lot hadn’t changed with the two men. “There’s more grey hair and creases in our faces,” Duarte says with a chuckle. “But we have that same music connection we had years ago. Dennis’s approach is to capture raw emotion, and, because of this, he records literally everything, even snippets between songs.” Duarte continues: “I brought my guitar with me when we tracked vocals, and he said I didn’t need it—the guitar parts were all done. He used the solos I played on the fly during the basic sessions. They were fun, and off-the-cuff, and the tone and grooves were great. I was really dialed in.”
Ain’t Giving Up is intimate and gritty, but it also boasts pristine fidelity, as if we the listener are in the studio with Duarte and his buddies. It’s a reset for Duarte that shows his resilience and his undiminished love of the blues and American roots. “I am so grateful to be signed to Provogue and to work with Dennis again—it’s been a dream come true,” Duarte enthuses. “I have been so fortunate to play music and do my thing for almost 30 years, and I couldn’t ask for a better life.”
‘Ain’t Giving Up’ by Chris Duarte
1. Nobody But You
2. Big Fight
3. Bye, Bye, Bye
4. Can Opener
5. Gimme Your Love
6. Come My Way
7. Half As Good As Two
8. Lies Lies Lies
9. Ain’t Giving Up On Us
10. Look What U Made Me Do
11. The Real Low Down
12. Weak Days
Publisher: BRR Staff