Republished from November, 2016
Jeff Chaz, known as the Bourbon Street Bluesman, has recently released This Silence Is Killing Me. Very much akin to Sounds Like The Blues To Me, his previous 2016 offering, the new album is chocked full of Jeff Chaz originals. Those familiar with Jeff Chaz will comprehend that this fact is a mighty good thing. Chaz is a masterful songwriter whose work evokes vivid character portraits along with a fair share of memorable melodies. Chaz consistently displays a dead-on sense of how to get his songs across. He also plays blues guitar like nobody’s business and sings with a smoky/gritty (yet with smoothed corners) vocal style that suits his songs seamlessly.
Chaz was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and spent his formative years in Creole, LA. His family moved to California and after completing high school he traveled the country playing trombone in the horn section of a soul band. There he took advantage of an opportunity to sing in a fashion he refers to as “Memphis Soul.” Returning to California, he studied music and guitar at San Bernardino College and unearthed his love for blues guitar.
Throughout the album Chaz employs a lot of the same personnel that made his last release so enjoyable. One of these is drummer Doug Belote who, like Jeff Chaz, is a South Louisiana native that grew up in Cajun country immersed in the gumbo of musical intonations that the area is known for. Jazz, R&B, Funk, Zydeco, Gospel, Rock, New Orleans second line rhythms and, of course, the Blues. Talented Doug Therrien on bass guitar is another hold-over, and his and Belote’s work here proves professionally proficient and this gifted rhythm section openly augments the overall quality of the listening experience.
The release launches with a great one-two focal punch. The first punch is a medium- up-tempo blues shuffle titled “Savin’ Everything For You.” The song features a happy bouncy aspect and some furious fretwork by Jeff Chaz on his guitar. He laments “I don’t have the time to spend the money I make” and “I work, work, work almost every day;” but all that toiling seems tolerable due to the fact that he can spend all his time off work with his gal. His lyrics further reveal “One of these days I’m gonna take a vacation, but until that day it’s money I’ll be making.”
The second punch comes with the dynamite title track “This Silence Is Killing Me.” It’s a simmering slow blues song that presents heartfelt lyrics about suspicions in his heart that his lady has infidelity issues. As is his usual method, he goes into minute detail of the encompassing circumstances of the realization. Chaz sings with an assured worldly-wise bluesy rasp and his guitar play is sublimely passionate in the choice manner of Robert Cray or the late B.B. King. His guitar’s stinging solo stylings cement a firm musical connection from Chaz to the heart of the blues lover listener. Doug Therrien ably mans the double bass and also provides the string arrangements for violinist Harry Hardin. The utilization of strings help strengthen the instrumentation mood accentuated both by the brass phrases and by the keyboards of John Autin, known as The New Orleans Piano Man and who was another musician sourced by Chaz on Sounds Like The Blues To Me.
“I Ain’t Nothin’ Nice” features an appealing brass arrangement by A.J. Pittman. The horn sections consists of A.J. Pittman on trumpet, Ward Smith on tenor and baritone saxophone, and Michael Genevay on trombone. Chaz sings with an exaggerated nasty vocal on lyrics such as “Mess with me, you’re messing with the wrong man,” and “I done told you once, ain’t telling you twice, I ain’t nothing nice.” Chaz shines on guitar with his smoking mid-song lead supplemented by the chugging horns accents.
Chaz employs some snaky guitar play with a close-to-the-bridge solo on the latin-infused beat of “I’m Not All There.” The man in the lyrics is obsessed with his lady telling her “I think about you baby, all the time,” and summarizes by saying “I may be here, but I’m not all there.” It is a love song with some piercing guitar stabs along the way by Chaz.
Another mighty fine example of Chaz’s savvy songwriting comes with his homage to the blues entitled “The Blues Is My Drug.” Chaz gets pretty specific in extolling his addiction to the Blues. Tom Worrell provides some Professor Longhair Crescent City piano work on the song to spice it up real nice.
Chaz shifts gears and gives us “Merry Christmas To You,” a holiday song with sleigh bells a-jingling. The song is easy to sing along to and worthy of year-round play due to Jeff’s old-school nipping guitar riffs, John Autin’s cheery keyboards, and the complementing horn section. Jeff’s vocal goes down as warmly smooth as George Dickel sipping bourbon whiskey.
One of my favorites on This Silence Is Killing Me is “Oncoming Train.” The lyrics speak of the up and down roller-coaster ride of life that everyone encounters. Just when you think you’re trotting down easy street without a care in the world some obstacle comes along to bring you crashing back to earth. Or as Chaz expresses it “You see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it looks like an oncoming train.” Train whistle noises accompany some mighty fine ensemble work from Jeff and his band. Chaz and the group click tightly together like a padlock on this outstanding track.
“Fried Chicken Store” is a story/song that shows you can find love just about anywhere; if your heart is open to it. Chaz goes into great detail, somewhat reminiscent of the method employed by Tom Waits on his classic song “Eggs And Sausage” from Nighthawks at the diner in describing his fond happenstance meet with a willing woman he encounters while securing a meal of some dark-meat chicken.
On “Self Inflicted Wound,” an up-town New Orleans blues song, Jeff sets his paramour straight when he snappily sings “You said I broke your heart, but what you’ve got is a self-inflicted wound.” The horn chart is punchy and ratchets up the intensity, while Chaz’s guitar work is stellar with a notable guitar solo.
“The Backwash Blues” is another tasty nugget that displays some scrumptious slide guitar mastery by Chaz. The lyrics are un-appetizingly amusing with Chaz adding dramatic details to paint his scary picture of what can happen when the bottle gets passed around freely amongst friends.
The last song on the release is also its only instrumental. “Creole Mustard Swing” is aptly named because it hits home with the hot-spiced twang of Creole Mustard (created with vinegar-marinated brown mustard seeds with a dash of horseradish) as used in NOLA recipes for crab cakes, po’ boys, or grilled Boudin sausage. The rhythm section grooves to a marching beat that allows Jeff to weave in and out of the melody with his tasteful blues guitar fills.
In the liner notes Jeff gives special thanks to his executive producer (Steve Lawry), publicist (Frank Roszak), equipment companies (Reverend Guitars, Seymour Duncan and Rivera Amplification) and “most of all to my good friend and constant companion, God Almighty.”
“I was held back for a long time in being able to produce records the way I really know how due to awful circumstances, but with a little investment money from a friend with very reasonable terms I’m able to do things more like I need to.” ~ Jeff Chaz
Jeff Chaz’s blues feel fresh, definitely not retreads of old licks. This music he crafts is a vital link and a continuation of the Crescent City’s noble musical tradition. He is a wordsmith of the highest order, with many of his creations being vignettes that almost have to have been mined from his true life events. He unerringly plays his guitar with great melodic finesse throughout and his vocals bear a charismatic charm. This Silence Is Killing Me is a solidly cohesive achievement and a release that deserves accolades.