Inspired by the likes of Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Otis Spann, Pine Top Perkins, Fats Domino, Ray Charles and more, Nole pays homage to a wide range of piano blues styles with this retro vibe collection of instrumental originals.
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Chris Nole sets the mood and blows the roof off all at once with this album. Showcasing piano work second to none, a clear love for and connection to the genre and styles at play here, Piano Blues makes for a stunning and bright collection that lights up the room.
Bird Doggin’ as an opener takes you way back, keeping the sound crisp and clean but leading with organic nostalgia and a smokey-jazz-bar vibe that’s impossible to maintain a bad mood amidst.
That blues core runs throughout this album, of course – those familiar chord patterns, the movement, hints of swing and flutters of additional detail and colour. With this though, Nole highlights an incredibly free, expressive and often quick style of playing, which opens up a whole new arena of entertainment, and makes you incredibly keen to witness the whole thing in a live setting.
Being the blues, the opener takes perhaps a more uplifting pathway than some of the tracks that follow, never does this album get particularly melancholy though – it revels in that calming swagger of a night spent removed from the hustle and bustle of the rat race. Past Midnight is a fine example, a sensational performance even amidst such a mellow groove. In contrast, Pine Barren Boogie then kicks into gear with a knees-up shuffle of a track that may well bring about a sudden urge to play air-piano; for anyone with a desk or even just a lap to hand.
Piano Blues in full feels like a dinner party playlist, the sort of go-to that keeps things light but also sneakily impresses anyone who takes a little moment to examine the music more intently. Chris Nole is a profoundly talented and experienced musician, and far from mathematical with his playing – there’s so much soul on this album that you can’t help but feel the whole world should know about it.
In terms of highlights, Piano Blues in full is where the experience really lies, but there are certain moments you could pick and choose perhaps, depending on the situation. The Dew Drop Blues features a few seductive hints of electric guitar, a shoulder-swaying vibe that’s incredibly immersive. Blue For You also stands out later on, perhaps thanks to its contrast with the ragtime-style energy of J-Bar Boogie. This one takes a mellow pathway and offers a few moments of gentle, emotive reflection.
Adding a Western or Americana vibe are tracks like It Was What It Was, complete with acoustic slide guitar, another moment designed to get you moving. Mind-blowing playing again stylishly screams out for appreciation. Chris Nole manages to captivate throughout this project, in the same instance as paying a more-than worthy tribute to the blues and its 100+ year history.
Towards the end, Phat Boy Blues seems like a personal favourite, the horn section adds a certain swagger and thickness to the soundscape, and contrasts brilliantly with Nole’s quick fingers and lighter melodies. There’s also a great sense of structure – a fine use of back and forth between spacious and busy.
C Street Shuffle later on is another highlight – in comes that guitar again, and a mighty drum-line that really helps energize the entire room. Farewell Sweet Rosie follows and brings the album to a thoughtful and notably intentional finish.
It felt almost like a wasted listen to write about this during the experience. Heading back into it, with nothing more to do but simply let the music work its magic, was really where the whole thing hit with the greatest impact. Without a doubt, turn this up loud and let it play – Friday, Saturday, even Monday; there’s something about this natural and endlessly impressive collection, which connects you to the purity of music and the wonders it can work if you let it. Chris Nole is categorically an artist worth knowing about.