Clean Living

Chris Duarte has kicked addiction, but he still has the blues

Mostly, though, it's an album that shows Duarte finding his own voice. There are a couple of covers, but even these are handled with the confidence of a man who knows how things ought to sound.

That sense is further strengthened when discussing the current state of blues with Duarte. He won't disrespect the dead, but the living are left to fend for themselves. Duarte's assessments of his fellow musicians follow a pattern: an apparent compliment followed by a damning dismissal.

Take current media darlings the North Mississippi Allstars, for example: "I can appreciate what they're trying to do," says Duarte. "The jam-band thing is kind of cool."

But?

"Their playing is kind of sloppy. The guitar player just doesn't excite me."

How about Kenny Wayne Shepherd?

"Kenny and I are friends. He's a nice kid, and I like him a lot."

And yet?

"I keep waiting for him to come out of the box. There's just nothing original there," Duarte says, then tellingly adds: "It's just the same old Stevie Ray."

With his blues elders, Duarte is more respectful, but his true feelings still show through. When the topic turns to former label-mate Buddy Guy, Duarte first enthuses: "Buddy's a great guy. Whenever I see him I'm very reverent because he's one of the few surviving legends." Then he adds, "Of course, a lot of the stuff he does is kind of showy."

There's some ego at work here, certainly, but no apparent malice. Duarte talks with the air of a man who has seen too much and struggled too long to have to lie about what he thinks.

As for his own future direction, Duarte's focus alternates from the ridiculous to the sublime. "Plans for the future? World domination. I hope to enslave the human race for my own purposes," he says before turning contemplative. "No, I just want to keep growing as a person and as a player. I owe it to myself, to my wife and to my fans. I just want to keep getting better."

The tone having grown serious, he backs away. "Sorry, that started off kind of profound, but it petered out at the end."

Perhaps so, but with a new album and a new lease on life, Duarte's career shows no sign of doing the same.

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