My, oh my, time sure does fly. It was almost exactly a decade ago I first heard of Chaz DePaolo from an Irishman in Lake Placid, NY, by the name of Paddy King. I was running a little local live music program, and Paddy was a tenant in the hotel my wife and I worked at. “You gotta hear Chaz. He plays all over the world, and nobody in the US knows him.” Paddy was emphatic. At the time, I had lots of up and coming acts begging to play in the Olympic Village, and it took a bit of prodding to get me to even speak with DePaolo, who lived in Bayonne, NJ at the time. I had a blank weekend coming up… another band had cancelled out at the last minute so I offered Chaz lodging, meals, and $50 piece to play three gigs over two days. He could sell all the CDs he was able to, and we’d put a tip jar out for the band. A major snow storm hit that weekend, but the place was full on Friday night and Chaz delivered a 4 hour set of the electric blues. The crowd didn’t want him to quit. Prior to doing another electric set the next evening, DePaolo and his band delivered a mid-day acoustic set. I was blown away. His command of the acoustic guitar, his voicing, intonation, the selective bends and staccato runs and fills captivated me. He played electric again that night to a sold out crowd, but had left an indelible mark on my brain.
In the decade since then, Chaz DePaolo has played from coast to coast, in little bars and on big stages and headlined festivals. He’s been all over Europe and the UK, and toured with the likes of Commander Cody, The New Riders of The Purple Sage, opened for Buddy Guy, and played lead guitar for The Groundhogs and Jimi Hendrix’ brother Leon. A few years ago he was honored with induction into the Blues Hall of Fame (NY Chapter).
He’s also seen a lot of personal and professional ups and downs. The breakup of a longtime relationship, struggles with depression and disappointments, the death of several family members and a band mate hit him hard. Through it all, DePaolo has kept faith in his music. There never was any doubt about his ability as a guitar player.. musicians know who he is and what he can do, but his song writing has grown and matured steadily.
Resolution Blues is Chaz DePaolo’s 5th release, and the first showcasing his command of the acoustic guitar. Hands down, it’s his best offering so far. There’s a number of reasons for that. In no particular order they are: a whole band approach, his maturation as a lyricist and poet, and while his guitar solos are limited, they are poignant and one of a kind. There is a brightness that shines throughout Resolution Blues that seemed to be missing in his previous work. The music is universally accessible. It feels good. You’ll want to listen to it over and over again, and discover new intricacies behind each bend and corner. I would be surprised if this CD is not nominated for some awards. It’s that good.
The cover art is the first thing that grabs you. Pictures were shot at Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado. The grounds are empty, but DePaolo looks determined to play there for a crowd.
The tracks are not over layered. DePaolo sings us his songs, accompanied by his rhythm guitar, backed by Hank Kaneshige on bass and Cliff McComas on drums. Saxohone virtuoso Rob Chaseman delivers stunning work throughout the CD, as does Prestine Allen on Keyboards and Organ. David Biondo adds considerably to the flavor with his harmonica work on several tracks and fills the role of executive producer. Chaz DePaolo wrote all of the songs and arraigned and produced them and went back over them interjecting tasteful fills and leads. Ben Elliot did the recording at Showplace Studios in Dover, NJ.
DePaolo jumps right in with Love So Strong, delivers a verse and turns it over to Allen and then Chaseman. The results are stunning. Their interplay grabs you right off the bat. Title track Resolution Blues comes next. Chaz tells us what the blues are about. But rather than waddle in the mire, he’s determined to rise again, to triumph over pain and sorrow. He regrets “past relations and temptions” but looks for a “newfound revelation”. The song drips with optimism. Then comes Broken Tales. “Living in the present in someone else’s past”. It’s a search for the way through dark times, with some sneaky biting guitar picking, another Chaseman meandering sax line, and some bright piano, rejecting the negative.
Perhaps my favorite song on the CD is the fourth one, Angel On My Shoulder. It’s a song of thanks giving, and Dave Biondo gets down and dirty on the harp. You don’t want him to quit. It’s almost a march and it end too quickly. Chaz goes slowhand on I’m Not Angry Anymore. Probably the most pronounced lead guitar work on the CD is found on this number. Eric Clapton would be proud of him. It’s slow blues, and every note is milked for all it’s worth. Allen throws in some dirge like organ notes and then Biondo really flies on the harmonica solo. It’s a powerhouse of a song if you like the blues, very tastefully delivered.
DePaolo shuffles us along with Gunther 414, a tribute to early Bluesman Robert Johnson. It was in room 414 of the Gunther Hotel in San Antonio that Mr. Johnson spent his final moments after his famed visit to the Crossroads.
Over the years, one of the complaints critics have issued about Chaz DePaolo is that he lives out the blues and stays there. He busts loose in upbeat fashion with Rear View Mirror. Allen tickles the keys and leaves a smile on your face. Love’s Resistance finds the writer examining a profound love, wondering if a replacement can ever be found. It ends on the upswing, with belief and a view to the future. Scars pushes us to grow from our pain. Allen’s organ part is particularly noteworthy and fitting. “ We all have our wounds” says DePaolo, but “Tomorrow is another day and we can dream a different way”. Chaseman really lets loose on his sax part.
The CD closes out with the upbeat Share. It a “we’re all in it together” type of song. Nice way to close out.
I could find some faults with this CD. At first blush, some of the songs sound too much the same. The differences begin to manifest themselves the more you listen to it. Some of the songs may have benefited from some backing vocals, but in truth it’s a highly personal album. And a mighty fine one at that. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Bluesman Chaz DePaolo.