Glide Magazine
by Jim Hynes

We last heard from singer-songwriter/guitarist Chris Bergson and his frequent collaborator, soul man Ellis Hooks, on Bergson' 2017 release Bitter Midnight and the two played on Bergson's 2013 Live at Jazz Standard. Both artists reside and NYC and have an avid following in that region as well as in Europe, where they often appear at major festivals. Live in Normandy (both in CD and DVD) feature the same dozen tracks culled from performance in May 2018 at the BackStage Association's Nuit du Blues festival in front of a stadium-sized crowd.

Bergson has what most guitarists want most of all-feel. He plays concisely, economically, and with just the right dose of emotion without showboating. He can play in the style of Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Cropper, and even jazz players like John Scofield. He can handle all those styles easily but fortunately, he is an original who penned many of these tracks along with soul covers from Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Little Milton. Additionally, Bergson's singing has a soulful quality that comes across convincingly, as heard on the opening "61st and 1st."
Hooks has issued his own albums as a leader and sung with Stax legends Steve Cropper and Little Milton. He is highly regarded in Europe, having played many festivals with his blend of R&B, blues and Southern gospel. Check out Hooks" 2015 Jon Tiven produced Needle in a Haystack. He is renowned for his on-stage intensity and remarkable phrasing which are on full display in the DVD as he immediately commands the stage with his entrance and performance on "Knuckles & Bones." Bergson and Hooks have become a blue-infused modern-day Sam and Dave, bringing a similar kind of gritty, rousing blues that is chill-inducing, whether vocally or via Bergson's stinging, piercing solos. (check out "Bitter Midnight").

Bergson and Hooks are backed by their long-time European band, with whom they've honed their sound over years of touring. Bergson claims that he's played over a hundred concerts with the rhythm team he refers to as 'The French Connection' - Phillippe Billoin (keys), Philippe Dandrimot (bass) and Pat Machenaud (drums).
While these twelve tracks mostly feature tunes culled from previous albums and soulful covers, this one has a new Bergson/Hooks original, "55 Miles from Bromley," a swampy, filthy grove where Hooks looks back at the small farm town where he grew up in Alabama. Other collaborative songs on "Knuckles & Bones" and "Bitter Midnight," both appearing on the album of the latter's same title. Another clear highlight is an incendiary extended version of "Heavenly Grass," a Tennessee Williams set to a Delta blues groove. Bergson's guitar lines echo two of his heroes, Hubert Sumlin (with whom he performed in his later years) and Freddie King. High energy versions of Bergson originals "Greyhound Station" and "Float Your Mind" appear as well as Sam Cooke's ballad "Somewhere There's Girl," Little Milton's "Grits Ain't Groceries" and Otis Redding's "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Both artists join voices on the traditional encore, "Corrina," done Taj Mahal style.

Bergson and Hooks first met in 2004 when they shared a bill at Joe's Pub. They kept running into each other around the city before beginning to jam on blues standards. As Bergson relates "...something really clicked. We started getting together every week and singing and writing together." "The Only One" was born from those early writing sessions and Hooks has appeared on Bergson's last two widely acclaimed releases.

Live albums don't get any better than this. Bergson and Hooks are both clearly on the rise. Paired with Hooks for a full outing rather than simply select tracks as on previous releases, will haveLive in Normandy inflecting Bergson's high trajectory further upward and hopefully encourage Hooks to deliver another album as fine as his last solo outing.