The blues isn’t always easy to understand. You can listen with one ear and hear music without much musical range, confined to relatively narrow scales, and quickly subject to repetition. You don’t listen to blues for instrumental complexity. You come to this music through emotion – and not just sadness. Muddy Waters always believed that non-black performers didn’t quite understand the genre and sometimes took it too seriously. If anything, blues humor is understated, and not enough understand that the music’s motivation is laughing to keep from crying. There’s pain in the blues, but there’s much more than that. Jimmy Pinchak understands that. His first album Make It Better plundered the blues genre for its songwriting vocabulary and produced a ton of cuts that invoked the spirit of this much beloved American musical form. His second release, Blue on Arrival, does the same but brings the added bonus of a much more complete artist than we heard on the first release. Pinchak’s command of the guitar is beyond a doubt, but his increasing skill as a songwriter and vocalist is equally apparent.
He isn’t afraid to keep recycling the music’s long time themes. Love life problems and bad luck dominate the lyrics of songs like the first two, “Murder” and “Hit My Stride”. Some might hear his singing as exaggerated, but it perfectly captures the spirit behind his outsized boasting, the wild ups and downs of the lives behind his words. This works particularly well in the latter song and Pinchak’s guitar meets the drama every step of the way. Blues purists will appreciate “Crossroads Blues”, his homage to Delta great Robert Johnson. Pinchak is every bit the slide guitarist that he is an electric player and zips around the guitar neck with ease. “Rock Me Down” takes the album back to Chicago with a rollicking upbeat blues that plays, like some of the album’s other tracks do, to proven genre formulas. Pinchak has mastered songs like this and plays them like they just occur naturally as a consequence of him plugging in. “Poison” spreads out at nearly eight minutes but the band never meanders. The tightness of the Jimmy Jax Pinchak Band is a big piece in the puzzle of what makes this release special and one of their best attributes is how fixed they are on their musical goals. Most of the album tracks range from between three to four and half minutes and the band never waste the listener’s time. Those goals remain intact on much longer numbers thanks, once again, to the songwriting and relationship between the players.
“I Can’t Stop” is ripped straight out of the Chicago blues playbook and roars with electric passion. It’s indisputably one of the album’s finest moments for this reviewer and Pinchak scalds the ear holes with his playing. The band’s teamwork is in full effect here as well and they easily reach the high bar Pinchak sets from the opening notes on. “Stuck in Glue” returns the album to acoustic territory and is notable for its funniness and another successful reinvention of standard blues imagery. It’s a great personal way to end the album and should be the final bit of proof for anyone mistaken that Pinchak is just a gifted mimic. Blue on Arrival is a wildly creative effort unafraid to wear its influences on its sleeve.
9 out of 10 stars.