In her book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu, Debra Devi defines Hokum Blues as a lighthearted subcategory of urban blues popular in the late 20s and early 30s. Beginning with songs such as “It’s Tight Like That,” and “Please Warm My Wiener,” Hokum was filled with sexual innuendo and double entendre meant to tickle your ribs as well as move your feet.
Chris “BadNews” Barnes, a former Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock & Carol Burnett television show performer and writer, has made his mark in the blues community with this genre, even being hailed as The King of Hokum Blues by Elmore Magazine. His third VizzTone release, BADNEWS RISING is also his first all-original album filled with satiric muses interlaced with honest, biographical stories.
The album kicks off with “You Wanna Rock? You Gotta Learn the Blues,” co-written by John Hahn. It’s an evil sounding, treacherous track that would have fit right into the soundtrack of Crossroads with no problem. The Ry Cooder-esque slide guitar provided Pat Buchanan (Cameo, Hall & Oates) provides a perfect dark backdrop for Barnes’ green-bullet enhanced vocal.
Grammy Award winning producer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, Roy Buchanan, et al) co-wrote several of the tunes as well as producing the album and playing drums. BADNEWS RISING was recorded at Sound Stage Studio in Nashville, with a bevy of top musicians including Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton, Anson Funderburgh) on piano and Hammond B3, and Tommy MacDonald (Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter) on bass.
“When Koko Came to Town” is the first of Barnes’ autobiographical tunes, recalling the days when he performed with legends such as Johnny Copeland, Pinetop Perkins, and, of course, the late, great Koko Taylor at Tramps in New York City. A high end, Chicago style composition with backing horns aplenty, it’s a Wang-Dang-Doodle time.
The other song written about Barnes’ life is “I Slow Danced With Joni Mitchell.” Written as a late ’60s, early ’70s Mitchell-esque, acoustic ballad, BadNews shares the ups and downs of his life including the loss of his mother and penning the iconic line, “Live from New York!” He lays bare his triumphs and regrets in a song that will bring a tear to your eye and leave a frog in your throat. Make sure you listen to the very end.
“Quid Pro Quo” is another big, showy tune that speaks on the tit for tat of music and life. Co-written by Chicago luminary Terry Abrahamson (Muddy Waters), the horns are once again large and in charge, but McKendree’s piano adds a sweet, creamy center.
Another co-write, this time with Bill Murray’s younger brother John Murray, is “Chicks Dig Me.” This one is a blues rocker about a humble, dedicated man with the “curse and a blessing” that women just love him.
“My Baby Be Cray Cray Cray” is a ’50s stroll-meets-barrelhouse song with the antagonist teaching us a lesson in living with a woman for a long time, who just might knife you in your sleep. Meanwhile, Barnes speaks on starting his day at “The Creamy Caramel Cafe.” Accentuated with soulful harp from Pat Buchanan, this one if chock full of food related double entendre.
Another rocker comes forth on “Kettle Black.” Simply put, be careful what you say about someone else if you’re acting the same way. The hard driving rhythm of “Texas Wiener,” combined with Barnes’ bawdy lyrics will have you tapping your feet and singing along.
The final track is truly one you have to listen to regardless of the title. “I Like Cleavage” isn’t what you think – at least not what I thought. While I knew there was surely a double meaning, I didn’t expect it to be about the need for a political coming together in our nation.
King of the Hokum? In this day and age, the crown fits squarely on the head of Chris “BadNews” Barnes while he sits comfortably on the throne of BADNEWS RISING. Long live the king!