Out Of These Hands

CJ Hutchins

RoMoCo Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/24/1999

C.J. Hutchins may just be the F.P. Santangelo of blues-folk.

Now that you're officially asking "What the hell is he talking about?" allow me to explain. Most musical artists tend to find a basic groove and stay in it. Whether it's guitar pop, hip-hop, country-rock, blues-rock, whatever, once they choose a path, they tend to stick with it. They may stray occasionally with a song here or an album there (alt-rockers Gin Blossoms cut a couple of great country tunes in their time, not to mention Eric Clapton and company doing all those "unplugged" one-shots). But these ventures tend to stick out from the rest of an album or catalog of work; whether they're well-done or not, they're bound to be conspicuous.

What singer-songwriter C.J. Hutchins achieves on this debut album -- produced and arranged by his friend, guitar legend Ronnie Montrose -- is to demonstrate that his storytelling skills defy labeling. This album contains folk, blues, rock and a hint of country, in both acoustic and electric formulations, all on the same disc. And while rookie jitters show up here and there with some of his vocals, overall Hutchins' performance comes off as that of a wiley veteran whose essential class and heart shine through in whatever genre he touches.

The disc opens with Hutchins' sweet acoustic picking leading into "Face In The Mirror." This gentle, contemplative tune shows off Hutchins' delicate falsetto and a taste of the Moody Blues/mystical renaissance flavor shared by "Mirror" and the next song, "Cannonball." It's an indescribably airy feel, as if these tracks had been recorded in an ancient English castle. "Cannonball" again features wonderful low-key guitar work by Hutchins, as well as very complementary harmony vocals from drummer/percussionist Michele Montrose.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first major stylistic shift on the disc comes with "Cross-Leg," a light- hearted little roadhouse boogie number ("I don't mind if my chances / are no bigger than a splinter / And I don't mind if you / keep me hungry all winter") embellished by Ronnie Montrose's rhythm guitar.

The stylistic trifecta comes when Hutchins then segues straight into the lounge shuffle "Baby, We're Through," which sounds like a lost Tony Bennett out-take. Funny thing is, Hutchins nails the vocal and you're left wondering whether this folk-blues artist's true calling might be buying a tux and playing Vegas (which, come to think of it, the Moody Blues have done). Later in the album, "Hello Friend" has the same slick blue-eyed soul flavor.

After a couple of more acoustic numbers -- including the country-esque "A Man Like Me" -- it's back to the blues with a vengeance. In addition to one of the best lyrics on the disc, "Rock Me To Sleep" features Montrose on lead guitar, this time laying down some sweet blues licks, punctuating Hutchins' vocals on the choruses and taking a pair of restrained but nonetheless stinging solos. The title tune takes the blues flavor to the next level, adding a rock arrangement and harder-edged guitars, as the harmonies by Alex Ligertwood (Santana) add a dynamic depth to Hutchins' vocals on the choruses.

Next up? A gentle acoustic number with more of Hutchins's sweet falsetto vocals ("Here We Are"). The only real pattern here -- and through the rest of the 13-track disc -- is that there isn't one. Hutchins throws anything and everything he's got at you all it once, with some hits, some misses, and some in-betweens with the potential to grow on you.

And that's about it -- wait. What's that you say? I still haven't told you who the hell F.P. Santangelo is? Well, then: Santangelo is the multi-talented veteran utility-man my beloved San Francisco Giants signed as a free agent this spring. He's about four inches shorter than your average baseball player and has struggled to hang onto a starting job during his three years in the majors. But he plays six positions -- none of them at all-star level, all of them solidly well -- and when fans get the chance to see his hard-nosed, dedicated, heart-on-his sleeve approach to the game, they inevitably give the guy a hand.

F.P. and C.J. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RoMoCo Records, and is used for informational purposes only.