DR CHRIS & THE REDEEMERS – Stone Cold Redemption

When a band places a bottle of Makers Mark rather prominently in one of their earliest promotional photos and advertises themselves as a blues band, chances are, you’ll get no big surprises when it comes to the kind of sounds they make. For Dr Chris & The Redeemers, the big twist comes from their location. This band comes well versed in the Texas blues, but deliver their rootsy grooves and Stevie Ray Vaughan inflected riffs straight from the heart of Adelaide. In terms of all round authenticity, though, they hit everything absolutely square on. Their debut album is a great release which doesn’t so much present itself like the sound of 2021, but a brilliant throwback to 1990.

That core sound isn’t shy in presenting itself either. The title cut is barely three bars in before The Redeemers show how well versed they are in the kind of blues rock that won the hearts of the VH1 crowd. Via an opening riff with a cool descending motif, the band settles into an easy groove and Dr Chris Klinger throws out several well worn ideas about “staging an intervention” in a semi-pleading tone. None of this adds anything new to the genre, but everything is played with love. Of particular interest is Klinger’s lead tones; his guitar work is rich, yet weathered, creating something in classic style that’s always sympathetic to his aging, yet still full vocal style. Klinger’s best efforts wouldn’t mean much without a solid band, and his amigos bring just as much to this table of blues, especially bassist Dave Blythe, who augments a great groove throughout, and rhythm guitarist/songwriter Mark Munchenberg, whose full tones really flesh out the retro feel throughout. Championing a much dirtier rhythm and guitar sound, ‘Old Doghouse Blues’ chugs through a few minutes of melodic blues rock that falls somewhere between one of Stevie Ray’s deep cuts, a Walter Trout groover and something with a slight country rock edge, not really challenging the band, but definitely showing off some of their louder chops. The live sound of the production brings out the best in both the rhythm and lead guitars at every turn – with Klinger’s lead being especially on point – giving what’s likely an accurate representation of the band should you be lucky enough to catch them in an Aussie pub sometime. As with a few of the other tracks, the rhythm section works hard, giving The Redeemers a solid heart for whatever comes their way and although you’ve heard it all before, the playing comes with a real drive. Fans of a tried and tested blues rock style will certainly find this among the album’s stand out cuts.

In a slight change of mood, ‘Broken Man’ takes on a more soulful feel, sidelining a few of the punchier elements at first to allow Chris’s lead more room to sing. As the verse takes a hold, the ol’ Texas blues core is present, but is offset by a gentle funk groove that pushes Steve Aiken’s drums to the fore. In capturing the whole band pulling together to achieve a solid sound, it’s definitely one of the album’s highlights, even if the lead vocal wobbles on occasion. Fans of the style may well decide that any imperfections only add to the live feel – as would be appropriate – but Klinger definitely sounds a little more at ease on some of the other tunes. Shifting to something more upbeat, ‘Over & Out’ is a decent rocker with a strong boogie-blues backline that showcases Munchenberg’s hard rhythmic work brilliantly, and at a high volume, whilst a confident vocal compliments the very retro sound. In this slightly more southern mood, it’s as if The Redeemers are channelling the ghost of JJ Cale in an uncharacteristically aggressive stance, but its a style that works very well for them, allowing Klinger to drop in some grubby solos whenever and wherever the mood fits. As with most of their tunes, there’s nothing flashy here, and nothing that suggests ego; just good, honest blues rock that truly makes this band’s simple style hold firm. Showing how well they can present a more sophisticated front, the slow and smoky ‘Remember It All’ comes straight from the Robert Cray soulful blues style, which is perfect for Chris’s lead guitar sound. He uses the more spacious style to make his instrument cry very effectively whilst the rest of the band set about a mellow groove, again, demonstrating how this band can handle all styles of blues with the minimum of fuss. The less busy style, perhaps, isn’t as sympathetic to his vocal style; the bigger notes waver and crack a little uneasily in places, but its a minor point and certainly never spoils a fantastic musical performance.

Issued as the band’s debut single in September, ‘Devil In The Backseat’ was very well received by various corners of the online press, and it’s not difficult to see why. The track wastes no time in settling into a great and steady rhythm. The strong melodies and reverbed guitar parts are drawn straight from the likes of SRV but there’s an easy soulfulness, too, that hints at Robert Cray, whilst their commitment to the style in hand demonstrates plenty of toughness, sounding like a more melodic take on material by the Blindside Blues Band. The fat toned guitar work is great throughout, but in many ways, it’s Dr. Chris Klinger’s vocals that leave the stronger impression. He tackles each line of his performance with a genuine confidence, but there’s also plenty of heart; voice has a slight world weariness that really gives the chorus character as he warns that a devil in the backseat is “gonna wanna drive”. As a metaphor for mental health struggles – even if that weren’t the intention – this is a brilliant hook. As for the rest of the band, there are no weak links here. Drummer Steve Aitken holds a firm rhythm throughout and he’s brilliantly complimented by Dave Blythe’s thudding bass. On first listen, rhythm guitarist Mark Munchenberg doesn’t seem like so much of a key player, but as with so many of the other tracks, his clean toned chops hold everything together in classic style. Without him, The Redeemers could make it as a tough power trio, but his shiny, melodic chords are pretty much essential in giving this its authentically retro soul/blues sound.

Something of a highlight, ‘Hard Act To Follow’ flaunts a slightly heavier, stomping style that allows Chris to tease with some mean slide guitar sounds and a moodier vocal. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else on the album, the interplay between him and Mark becomes absolutely essential in creating a full sound that shows the band to be a true collective, and the smoother ‘Nothing Gonna Fit’ ushers in some serious funk – sort of a Texas blues meets Govt. Mule hybrid – which sounds so natural, you’d never guess these guys weren’t from the US. It’s an easy pick for guitar playing highlights, with Chris playing in a lovely retro style, but those paying closer attention might spot that bassist Dave is putting in some equally hard yards, underpinning the main groove with some fat tones and fluid fills that are actually more complex than needed, but the arrangement really benefits from his meticulous approach. The album’s only true slip comes with ‘You’re So Hot’ which subjects the listener to a bunch of old style female objectification with a few tried and tested phrases that might those with more modern ears wince. Luckily, what could have been a turkey is saved by a fantastic arrangement straight from the SRV school of boogie blues. There are huge chunks of the riff that aren’t a million miles away from things like ‘Wham’ – or even Elvis Presley’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’ – and that’s enough to make it fly. Those who’ve taken an instant liking to the interplay between the bandmembers throughout this disc will certainly find something to enjoy here from a musical perspective.

Despite a clichéd title, ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ is actually one of the album’s highlights. Pushing the rhythm section further to the fore, the number serves up a hearty stomp – big on bass drum and thudding basslines – and over the lurching groove, Chris churns out dirty guitar lines that add a roughness to the expected bluesy tones. Between the verses, he isn’t shy in dropping some great lead work, but always seems very mindful that this is a collaborative band project and not just the Dr Chris show. Moving through the track, the listener is able to get a great sense of what this band would sound like in the live setting, with a great drum sound taking on a dominant role and the whole band really latching onto a solid rhythm. In terms of extra flourish, the first featured solo is short, but presents some neat sounds that occasionally appear to echo Zeppelin’s reworking of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, but the real interest comes with the second break, where Chris embarks on a lengthy tour de force of vibrato fuelled notes, each one highlighting his Texan inflected grubbiness. Although this is, perhaps, more blues rock than purist blues, this number certainly showcases a band with a reasonable amount of muscle.

As part of the same scene that gave blues fans Mojo Dingo, Dr Chris and his assorted chums are a fine addition to the Aussie blues rock scene. Although you couldn’t call this debut perfect by any means, their passion for the past is clear; their vision for their immediate future every bit as vibrant. This is very much the kind of record that doesn’t strive for originality, but it has its heart in the right place at all times. Even with a few flaws, Dr. Chris & The Redeemers’ conviction will be enough alone to make this debut a winner for a broad cross-section of blues and blues rock fans.

Visit Dr Chris & The Redeemers on Bandcamp here and on Facebook here.

November 2021