Have yourself a bluesy little Christmas with Chris Cain

Check in with blues guitarist Chris Cain over the years, and find out he's been working on learning bass, or sax, or gee, there's a nice beach across the street and he really ought to go see it, but he's just been hanging inside, playing piano.

The man loves his music, loves learning about theory, and picking up instruments in addition to the Gibson ES-335s that have put food on his table since he was a kid.

All that focus produced "Christmas Cain: Blues for the Holidays," a delectable little treat for Cain fans on which he plays every instrument except drums. (Perhaps he's not that far along in his studies.)

That's Cain on guitar, of course, but also on bass, Hammond B3 organ, electronic piano and the Steinway grand. Jim Baum sits behind the traps.

Cain's voice is the focus in fairly minimalist arrangements that don't overwhelm any moment of any song. Some terrific instrumentals, of course, but nothing that ever steps on a vocal.

While he sings, it's just a little fill here, a taste of bass there.

There are just seven tunes on this album, which clocks in at around 25 minutes, and two of them are slightly different arrangements of the same tune, "Christmas Will Really Be Christmas" by James W. Alexander and Ben Raleigh. On the first of those, Cain hits it at a kind of herky-jerky beat and throws in a tinny electric piano solo. The second time, he and Baum get to it in a slower, smoother, cool jazz way with a beautiful, deep tone guitar solo a bit like Wes Montgomery.

A surprise under this Christmas tree is "The Little Drummer Boy Meets B.B.," an instrumental with just Steinway and Gibson, performing the classic tune with guitar licks that are direct copies of and a tribute to B.B. King.

"Not in the Mood for Christmas" starts the album with a deep blues, the kind of guitar playing, lyrics and singing that have given Cain his devoted fan base. "The woman I love had left me," he sings in the bridge, "left me last Christmas Eve. Now everywhere I look, everything I hear, reminds me how it used to be."


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