Christopher Wyze & The Tellers

Christopher Wyze & The Tellers

If the blues knows how to sing life’s song, then singer/songwriter Christopher Wyze has learned that lesson well. The thirteen original songs on his very first album, “Stuck in the Mud,” are steeped in that storied tradition, as Wyze blends the world of his fertile story-telling imagination into the essence of the blues. Wyze has been soaking up that essence for the better part of two decades, visiting its primeval sources in the Mississippi Delta and letting his own thoughts flow into his songs. Those chops earned him a “One to Watch” songwriter award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International in December 2023.

Wyze and his band, the Tellers, recorded “Stuck in the Mud” in two musically historic places – ten tracks in Muscle Shoals, Ala. and three in Clarksdale, Miss. His inspiration for the songs, however, was pure Clarksdale, where he wrote them all – each with a co-writer. “In the Delta,” Wyze says, “songs seems to write themselves.” Wyze also gives each song a voice, in his own flowing, distinctive vocal style that shifts gears easily from old blues to rhythmic rock and gentle folk.

The storytelling begins with the open-road feel of the first cut, “Three Hours From Memphis,” where Wyze introduces his blues journey: “Three Hours From Memphis / A million miles from home / Fifteen years of paying dues, I did it on my own.” Frustrations with the hard times show up in the bluesy “Stuck In The Mud,” though: “Tried and tried, ain’t nothin’ brewin’ / Nothin’ to show, but my undoin’.” “Cotton Ain’t King” is a deeply sung, dirge-like tribute to a new southern “king” – “Songs of blue, restoring life / Crying from the soul. / Cotton ain’t king / Blues is the king.” Sung as a traditional narrative, “Soul On The Road” examines the solitude of the lonesome traveler: “Met a fella, he lived his days, collecting miles and not friends / No wife, no kids, just a road that never ends.”

“Back To Clarksdale” is a hard-driving visit to the source – “When I pay my dues / My life is what I lose / Just lay me down in those muddy shoes / Down in Clarksdale, play the blues!” An easy-loping shuffle, “Money Spent Blues” laments a different kind of worldly loss, cleverly phrased over tough blues guitar lines – “When you make a proposition, you know I can’t refuse / Got them money spent blues.” A touch of funk introduces the fatalistic “Caution To The Wind,” with a high-energy guitar solo — “Future, up ahead / But can we change instead? / What is it that we dread? / All gonna, all gonna end up dead.” But what’s the use anyway, as the hard-edged “Hard Work Don’t Pay” mourns: “Well I done cashed me my last paycheck / Sat down and wrote this song.”

“Life Behind Bars” is another profoundly sad tale of a different kind of confinement: “When it’s music, we call the bars measures / When he’s drinking, he calls the bars home / So he’s locked up and calls the bars walls that surround him / All it’s earned him, is life lived alone.” “Looking For My Baby” turns hopefully upbeat, bouncing along with a rollicking honky-tonk piano break – “I search both night and day, but there’s no girl that got away / I’m looking for my baby, cause I ain’t never had a girl, hey, hey.” The punchy, chant-like refrain of “Wake Up” encourages an enthusiastic activism – “People! Enter the fray! / People! Live for today! / Wake up!”

Although it’s musically flavored with classic hypnotic North Mississippi Hill Country blues riffs, the lyrics of “Good Friend Gone” tell a more modern tale: “Those teenage blues, they drove us crazy / We didn’t do the things we should / Didn’t do the things we supposed to / But we sure did the things we could.” The closer is the gently swinging “Someday,” a sad, bluesy tale of self-delusion by someone whose plans never quite make it to tomorrow, or even the day after – “Day after tomorrow, gonna be a go-getter / Someday, someday I’ll win the big game.”

Christopher Wyze is anything but “Stuck in the Mud” on this compelling debut album. He’s a lyrically literate delight; a smartly articulate teller of original tales filled with all the pain and pleasure of the blues. And he’s already a winner at that “big game.”

Jim White (a former music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette & now writes the Blues Roadhouse)





JULY 19, 2024