It is not every day – or week, or month – that a high blues adept of the caliber of Chris Bergson is called to my attention, but it feels like it. It feels like every day that I am asked to recognize the blues/roots bona fides of a cat I’d never heard of and to make room, to clear a place of honor, for another heavy in the Hall of Fame that I am supposed to maintain in my blue psyche. And in the case of a pretty much unquestionably legit talent like Bergson’s, I comply. I can’t but.
And I wonder how I – how we, if perhaps I am speaking for you as well – can justify being as blasé as we are about these masters in our midst. Bergson, like so many of the great modern blues torchbearers, is a complete package, baseball’s prototypical five-tool player. As a guitarist, his touch, tone and taste are above reproach. His lines are Delta, single-coil and spidery more than sustained and screaming, and I enjoy that about him.
Like anyone who would even throw his hat into the modern blues ring, Bergson’s command of the idioms and regional variations of the blues is total. Historic and idiomatic command is one thing; inspiration is another, and on any given night, Bergson is liable to start a small fire with nothing but a solo. He can sing his ass off in his own understated way, writes a real sturdy song and – again, as is virtually required of the modern working bluesman – appears to be a Grade-A arranger and bandleader as well.
So how can we – how can I – feel so blasé about this level of musical achievement and passion, so inured to it? I am going to go out on a limb here. The essence of blues is…well, essential, and very much alive and distributed throughout the pop, rock, jazz and soul groundwater. But the harmonic/melodic matrix of the modern blues genre – from whence come its melodic possibilities – is pretty played, and might have been kinda thin to begin with. So when I hear new blues songs, I am more likely to hear a pastiche of all-too-familiar manners and gestures than the lift of a living melody. And that makes for an uphill battle, outside of modern blues’ own fanatical community.
Blues lore – an inventoried storehouse of authentic narratives, experiences, emotions and personae – only reinforces this pervasive sense of “tribute.” Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett, much less Robert Johnson, didn’t know that he was a National Treasure, and thank God for that. But yes, of course, all genres and traditions can be so characterized as some combination of wild impulse, inherited convention and dutiful homage. So why am I picking on the blues? Honestly? Because, as a Hudson Valley resident and music dude, the blues have been picking on me.
But let me perfectly clear about one thing: If high-end, top-shelf modern blues is your thing, Chris Bergson is your man.
Chris Bergson Band, Saturday, June 8, 7 p.m., the Falcon, 1348 Route 9W, Marlboro; (845) 236-7970, www.liveatthefalcon.com.