Album Review - Two Rivers Back
B. Christopher of The B. Christopher Band may not be a household name, but after the release of his new Contemporary Blues album, “Two Rivers Back" he deserves to be. This is the fourth release from The B. Christopher Band, and while his first three records took on the feel of Contemporary Jazz, “Two Rivers Back” brings him back to his roots with the Blues. B. has enlisted an All-star cast of musicians; all of which only enhance his subtle yet sophisticated guitar playing.
Two Rivers Back is definitely a guitar first record, however with appearances from Nathan East and Stu Hamm on Bass, Jerry Portnoy on Harmonica, Bruce Katz on Keys, Anton Fig and Shawn Pelton on Drums, and Andy Snitzer on Sax, this record boasts musicianship on the highest level all around. Two Rivers Back also features New York blues legend Michael Powers on two tracks, with additional vocals by powerhouse vocalist E.J. “Moose” Boles and Asbury Park vocalist Eddie Testa split between an additional five tracks. Eric Collier on bass, and Kent Smith on trumpet also make an appearance. There is a reason that so many big names are attracted to playing with B. Christopher, as he delivers quality songs, recording quality, and image to everything he produces. It won’t be long before you see the name B. Christopher as a sought after “Feature” on other musicians tracks.
B. Christopher got his musical start in the television licensing game after being called upon to record music for the hit soap “All My Children”. His knowledge of his way around the recording studio doesn’t take long into the listening of “Two Rivers Back” as you start to realize that B. truly understands one thing: how to record great music. The album opens up with an instrumental track called “Newbie’s Funk” which is a funky head bobbing tune with a catchy melody that will be stuck in your head for days. What B. leaves out with lyrics in this tune, he makes up for great melodies on the guitar.
The album then moves in to a track called “Tried To Keep You Satisfied”, which with the help of E.J. “Moose” Boles on vocals portrays the path of moving past a failing relationship. A point we can all relate to, in which you have given your all and just have to call it quits. The third track “Sad State of Affairs” feels like a smokey bar room in Louisiana. Andy Snitzer on the Tenor Sax seems to know exactly when to play to add an essence of mischief in the air. B. plays a solo in Sad State that takes on a Mark Knopfler vibe, only to have an exclamation point tacked on at the end by a roaring solo by Snitzer on the sax.
The fourth track “Bit O’ Butter” is a slow shuffle which lets Bruce Katz add an airy quality with his key work. “Bit O’ Butter” is a great example of how B. can draw emotion from the listener without overplaying or blasting the listeners ear off. You can hear the David Gilmour influence in his playing on this tune. The fifth song is the only solo song where B. doesn’t have his band behind him. Titled “She’s Gone”, this track encompasses total heartbreak behind six strings and a piece of wood. An acoustic slide guitar song that is a total highlight on the record.
Track six “It’s Alright” picks up the feeling of despair that the last two tracks left you feeling, with a foot stomping, high energy, thumping shuffle. The ending of this tune really shows why Bruce Katz is one of the hardest working Pianists in the industry right now. “It’s Alright” leads right into another tune which is sure to make you dance titled “I’m Drunk”. “I’m Drunk” brings out the side of B. in what he would sound like in a Big Band setting. The tune starts with a catchy horn arrangement, a groovy drum beat by Anton Fig, and a twangy solo by B. Christopher. Throughout the record B. shows you why he’s had success in the T.V. licensing industry as none of his solo work sounds too similar, but it’s all recorded so well that the album has a complete flow that the listener doesn’t seem to notice the change in direction throughout the thirteen tracks.
Track eight is the first time we hear Michael Powers make an appearance. This tune will make you get up and bust a “jive.” At one point in the song the whole band is meshing so well together it feels like these guys have been playing together for all of their lives. There is a certain “slinky” quality to this tune that makes you want to listen to it over and over again. Track nine, “Perfect Curves” is another song straight out of the Stray Cats playbook. I will say that the drums seem to steal the show on this one as drummer Shawn Pelton (of the Saturday Night Live Band) keeps a groove that makes it hard to focus on anything else. It’s a perfect example of how keeping the pocket can still drive a song. Shawn portrays “Deep Pockets” throughout the tune, as B. once again delivers a subtle melody that will get stuck in your head.
Track ten feels more like a Bruce Springsteen esc. singalong rather than a blues tune, which makes perfect sense that Asbury Park’s own Eddie Testa would be singing on it. The tune titled “Bye Bye” makes you want to drive down a highway with your windows rolled down, doing just a few (or more) miles over the speed limit.
Track eleven “Strike Two” is an instrumental song featuring Nathan East on bass. Although this track feels like a bit of a slow start, the band really comes together around the halfway point, where B. kicks it up a notch in his playing. B.’s soloing in this track really shows that even though for most of this record he holds back his playing in his venture to play more tastefully, he can still turn it on when he needs to. The track then takes a turn, as almost a reprise to track ten “Bye Bye”, in a very rootsy Rock and Roll outro. Bruce Katz shines through yet again as the big chords by B. Christopher take the listener on a journey that makes it hard to not clap along to.
My personal favorite off of “Two Rivers Back” is track twelve; “Twenty Eight Days.” From the first words that Michael Powers sings “Twenty Eight Days, and Twenty Eight Nights. It’s been four weeks since the lie. It’s not the things you took, it’s the things you’ve left behind,” this track evokes the heartache that every good blues musician strives to accomplish. This feels like the most straight ahead blues track, other than the instrumental in “She’s Gone.” B. seems to have a way with an acoustic guitar in his hands. B. doesn’t play the acoustic much on this record, but when he does he certainly hits the mark. Twenty Eight Days also features harmonica legend Jerry Portnoy. This tune feels like a cannonball to the gut in the best way possible.
The album ends with one last instrumental titled “It Just Hurts” which seems fitting considering it hurts that there isn’t another song to listen to after this one. “It Just Hurts” has the band firing on all cylinders and depicts a huge sound that would certainly please a live audience.
Overall “Two Rivers Back” is a completely solid album from start to finish. B. takes you on a journey that hits the blues mark when needed, but also expresses his other sides to playing the guitar. Too often you find blues musicians who get stuck in a genre or a mood and can’t get out of it, and B. shows you he’s not one of them with his versatility on his instrument throughout the record. Only a true craftsman can write an album that jumps across so many genres, yet still has an overall vibe to it. With a backing band of A- list musicians behind him, B. never feels overshadowed by the talent, yet shines through when he is supposed to, and lets others have their moment as well. This album will 100% be a repeat in rotation for some time to come!
- Written by Luke Wolk - Guitar One Records