Chuck E. Weiss – “Red Beans and Weiss” – Album Review

There aren’t many young people today that consider themselves avid blues fans, but it’s a genre whose deep-seated roots are rich in history. It’s the soulful sound that captured the plight of America’s working poor, influencing much of the popular music young people listen to today. To bring contemporary blues rock back to young audiences, the eminent Chuck E. Weiss just might be the man for the job. The singer, songwriter, best known as the man behind the 1979 Rickie Lee Jones hit “Chuck E.’s In Love,” has been a fixture in the LA music scene for nearly 30 years, playing Chicago-style blues, mixed with elements of jazz, folk, and rock. However, it all started with a fortuitous appearance on drums at a Denver nightclub, where Weiss was discovered by the late, great country blues singer Lightnin’ Hopkins. Hopkins and Weiss worked together for a short time, and by the late 1960’s, Weiss began touring and recording with many of the country’s greatest blues musicians. Sunnyland Slim, Roger Miller, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon were among the list of legendary names Weiss found himself performing alongside.

In 1975, after moving from Denver to LA’s infamous Tropicana Motel, Weiss became close friends with the vagrant, folk-blues singer Tom Waits. Surrounded by an abundance of cigarettes, bourbon, and Tropicana’s ghosts of rock legends past, the beatnik hipster and the Denver-bred blues troubadour became inseparable, writing, composing, and performing together. In 1981, Select Records released The Other Side of Town, a series of Weiss’ own demos and other unfinished selections, leading Weiss to put together his own band, the G-d Damn Liars. The group began playing weekly sets at LA’s famous Viper Room, where Weiss and Hollywood heavyweight Johnny Depp became friends and business partners. Since The Other Side of Town, Weiss has release two other albums, 1999’s Extremely Cool and 2006’s 23rd & Stout.

After nearly a decade in the making since 23rd & Stout, Weiss, teamed up with Depp and Waits (both signed-on as executive producers), will finally release his new album Red Beans and Weiss on April 15. The 13-track album is the quintessence of Weiss’ soul-filled poetic blues style, embracing the true spirit of the genre: a synergy of words and music. The album opens with “Tupelo Joe” who “went to the show.” It’s an energized R&B rock n’ roll stomp, sounding like the love child of Howlin’ Wolf and Stevie Ray Vaughn. “Shushie,” said to be inspired by a feral cat Weiss rescued, is all about the buttery smooth saxophone from CC Worall Rubin and Will McGregor’s trance-inducing bass lines. It’s Weiss’ quirky style of beatnik blues poetry, performed at its absolute best. Listeners will surely be snapping their fingers and tapping their toes along with the song’s sultry beat.

Already becoming a fan favorite is “Boston Blackie,” which Weiss and his band recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live with a guest appearance from old pal and producer Johnny Depp. The track is wonderfully catchy, and JJ Holiday is mind-blowing on guitar. A little later on comes “Bomb the Tracks,” which has a delightfully organic sound to it, almost like Weiss is improvising a piece of poetry. The song cleverly discusses World War II politics with several memorable lines, including “Churchill was in Brazil and burned his tuchus on a Voltz Wagon grill, drinking token wine with a girl named Bill,” and “Joe Stalin was on the ground drawing futuristic pictures of Huckleberry Hound, Roosevelt was up in Maine doing the bugaloo chicken, about to go insane.” My favorite track off the record, “Exile On Main Street Blues,” seems to sonically transport listeners straight to a rockin’ Chicago blues joint where the piano licks and riffs are utterly slick and flawless. “Hey Pendejo” is a nod to Chicano style blues, while “The Hink-A-Dink” infuses the sounds of the old west.  Red Beans and Weiss comes to an end with the comical “Willy’s in the Pee Pee House,” proving exactly why Chuck E. Weiss is a legendary lyricist in his own right.

While the blues may no longer command as much attention among young listeners as it once did, Chuck E. Weiss’ latest album release, Red Beans and Weiss, perfectly captures the genre’s rhythms and moans, demanding that listeners stop and savor his soulful melodies. The album is a lyrical journey through timeworn honky-tonks and juke joints, World War II railroad tracks, the hidden terrain of a feral cat, and several other vibrant landscapes. Arguably Chuck E. Weiss’ best record to date, Red Beans and Weiss comes out April 15, and it provides nothing short of outstanding R&B blues rock.

-Lauren L.

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