Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Chris Yakopcic – The Next Place I Leave


This CD review was originally published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Chris Yakopcic – The Next Place I Leave

Self Release through Yako Records


11 tracks / 40:54

Chris Yakopcic hails from Dayton, Ohio and has honed his unique brand of original acoustic fingerstyle blues though gigs and festivals around his home state and Pennsylvania. His hard work has earned him a couple of trips to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, including a shot at the finals in 2015. But he is more than just a talented performer, and you will find excellent production and songwriting on his sophomore album, The Next Place I Leave.

This disc was recorded and mixed by co-producer Gary King in Dayton, and mastered at the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis. This was a good call, as the tracks are all flawlessly presented. This album has a big and clear sound that was accomplished with minimal personnel, as there is only Yakopcic on guitars and vocals, Leo Smith on bass, and Brian Hoeflich behind the drum kit. Stripping away the usual horns, harmonica, and keyboards results in a fresh vibe, almost like an acoustic power blues trio!

This disc has seven original tracks, plus four covers of tunes from the masters, and they all works very well together. The originals show that Chris has keen storytelling ability as he recounts some of his influences and life history, as well as his deep love for the guitar. And his application of the Nashville songwriting process results in blues-based tunes that are accessible and fun to listen to.

The title track is the first song in the set, and “The Next Place I Leave” features really clean fingerpicking over the driving beat provided by Smith and Hoeflich. The sound is modern, and Yakopcic’s lyrics are as slick as his fretwork as he recounts the thoughts of a man with a restless spirit. This segues into Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” which start off with a nice bit of slide guitar, and after the introduction the band comes in, turning this into a modern song with a country blues feel. Chris retains the original melody and lyrics, but his arrangement transforms this tune into a piece that fits well into the rest of the album.

In this same vein, Yakopcic reworks Leonard Cohen’s laconic synth pop tune, “Tower of Song” into an upbeat mountain song, and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me a Few Lines” (a jangly delta piece) into a slide-infused popping boogie. Probably the coolest of the handful of cover tunes is a countrified version of Robert Johnson’s “Phonograph Blues” which has somewhat risqué lyrics and sharply picked acoustic guitar with fabulous dynamics and a slick solo break.

These songs are a neat way for Chris to let us know what his inspirations are, and it is to his credit that he did not try to perform them exactly as they were originally written, though he has the talent to do so. But the true highlights of The Next Place I Leave are his original compositions, as many of them are autobiographical and personal. For example, “Smallman Street” is an easygoing rocker (with distorted electric guitars) that recounts one inspirational experience that drew Yakopcic towards the blues guitar. Then on “Sounds of the Highway” he uses his steel guitar to build a shuffle that describes his love of life on the road. And finally, Chris closes out the album with his thoughts on living a more simple life with his guitar, and “My Last Three Strings” is a gentle blues song with a beautiful solo break.

Fans of acoustic blues, roots music, and finely picked guitars will find plenty to like with Chris Yakopcic’s The Next Place I Leave. It is 40 minutes of well written and well played music that really clicks. If you head over to his website you will find a few samples of his work to listen to, and be sure to view his schedule of upcoming gigs, because if you are anywhere near the Buckeye State, it would be worth your while to check out one of his shows!

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