Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, I’m going to be digging deep into the music of Kris Barras, a rising independent blues rocker. His live act typically consists of covers of the blues greats: BB King, Eric Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and so on. His new self-titled debut harkens inspiration from the great songwriters and performers he continually pays homage to in his sets. There’s a contemporary element of it, however, that’s fresh and entirely unique to Barras. Let’s check out his eight song endeavor into fully original music.
Right off of the bat, ‘Never Too Late’ bombards you with the full power of this fantastic trio. Barras’ garage rock riffing and growly, dusty vocal performance is reminiscent of classic blues rock. I’d align his take on blues rock with that of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It’s no-nonsense rock: a driving lead guitar paired elegantly with thundering percussion manifests itself into some of the more impressive instrumentation I’ve heard in a very long time. Barras’ soloing technique is equally impressive, and I really dig that he doesn’t wank on the guitar unnecessarily. Every note he performs feels calculated, yet raw and untethered. Nothing is out of place.
It’s certainly worth noting that Barras’ brand of blues jam is similar to Texan blues with hints of British Invasion blues. It doesn’t venture into delta, nor does it feel much like midwestern Chicago blues. (Though that gets toyed with later.) The beauty of blues, though, is that there are so many different subsets of the genre. The space that Barras does occupy, he occupies masterfully.
As much as I dig rollicking numbers like ‘Never Too Late’ and ‘In Too Deep,’ the soulfulness of ‘Watching Over Me’ takes the cake on the first half of Barras’ debut. The performances on this track make the sky cry; cascading distortion and searing guitar fiddling are matched perfectly with heavy soakings of reverb and ambience.
The production of this debut is something special, too. Whenever I review music for the Independent Spotlight, I always pull up each artist’s songs on professional monitors in my studio. ‘Kris Barras Band’ bleeds epicness in its perfect production. They’ve managed to polish the record enough to give it a shiny coat of paint, but still keep it gritty and garagey.
‘Rise’ is another highlight from the album. It did house one of my only disappointments on the record, however, since a crackly delta blues acoustic slide guitar introduced the romping track. This fooled me, because I thought I was in for an acoustic ride. There isn’t a song on this debut that isn’t fantastic, but I would have loved to see Barras experiment further with the acoustic guitar. That may be something to consider for his sophomore effort.
‘It Is What It Is’ is a wonderful ballad, one that plays a bit like Bryan Adams getting lost on an island with tactful blues ensemble. As aforementioned, Barras does toy with midwestern blues on ‘I Don’t Want The Blues.’ This track feels like something straight out of the Windy City. (Believe me, I know. Our studio is smack-dab in the middle of that blues-hub. This is the kind of song I hear when I stop in Buddy Guy’s.) The album closes on ‘Crank Up,’ a very contemporary blues song with some retro influence that serves it well.
I absolutely love Kris Barras’ debut record. It’s intelligently performed and composed, remarkably well recorded, and a complete triumph of independent blues. He’s an English artist, but he needs to get stateside stat! Cities like Chicago and New York would eat up an act like this. I’ll even go as far to argue that Barras’ act is the finest indie blues rock act I’ve seen thus far this year. He’s smart to have setlists riddled with covers, but he should slowly start seeping more and more of his original content into them. I’d be just as content listening to any of this as I would be an excellent cover. Keep it up, Kris. You’ve got a good thing going and I’ll be first in line for your first show in Chicago.