Kenny Parker – Hellfire
Rock-a-While Records 001
12 songs – 60 minutes
Kenny Parker is one of those rare front men who leaves the singing to others, supporting himself with an assemblage of world-class bandmates. That’s the case here for the guitarist/bassist and songwriter who penned all 11 studio cuts on this album.
A native of Albion in south-central Michigan, Parker formed his first band, the Esquires, at age 14 and fell in love with the blues after discovering the recordings of Albert and B.B. King. An Eastern Michigan University graduate, he worked in a Cadillac factory by day and played music at night after graduation. He’s been a fixture in the Detroit blues scene since the ‘80s, first in the company of Mr. Bo, the Mississippi-born guitarist best known for the tune “If Trouble Was Money,” and later during a lengthy stint with the Butler Twins, longtime Motor City headliners.
Kenny followed the Butlers by signing on with Britain’s JSP Records in the mid-‘90s. His first album, Raise The Dead, included contributions from the twins, Ronnie Earl and Anson Funderburgh harp player Darrell Nulisch and first-call keyboard player Bill Heid, whose career has included work with everyone from Alberta Adams, Koko Taylor and Fenton Robinson, among many others.
Heid returns on this one, splitting keyboard duties with Leonard Moon and Chris Codish. Also joining the action for half of the 12 cuts is Jim McCarty, the veteran guitarist who’s been a key member of three supergroups: Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, the Buddy Miles Express and Chicago’s legendary Siegel-Schwall Blues Band.
Powerfully handling the vocals throughout on this one and making his debut as a featured artist is Dan Devins, a melismatic baritone and Windy City-style harp player. Rounding out the sound are bassist Mike Marshall, percussionist Dave Marcaccio and Brian Miller, who assumes harp duties for one cut.
The medium-paced shuffle, “I’ve Got My Eye On You,” a song of desire, swings from the jump to open with Parker and McCarty sharing six-string duties and Devins’ harp cutting like a knife for fills. The tempo picks up slightly for “Baby Come Back To Me,” which gives Parker space to shine, before a slow-blues pleaser, “Blind And Paralyzed,” the realization that the singer would prefer the handicaps rather than catch his lady with another guy.
Apparently, that’s the case. “Bye Bye Baby,” the uptempo rocker that follows, describes the woman as a party girl who’s never at home and who never announces where she’s going – cause enough to bid her farewell for good. A tasty guitar hook opens the title tune, “Hellfire,” which paints an aural picture of a head-turning, redheaded beauty named Ruby “who’s got the stuff you only find on the cover of a magazine.” But don’t get too close because “you soul’s gonna burn, baby, burn.”
The straight-ahead blues, “Goin’ In Circles,” deals with a troubled romance before “Dance With Me,” a rapid-fire rocker, urges a lady to join the singer on the floor. “I’m Missing You,” a heartrending ballad, follows before the percussive “But Then We Danced” questions if the woman still harbors romantic feelings. No wonder the singer’s “Half Crazy” and realizes he’s now her “Back Up Plan,” the two tunes that follow. The disc closes with a balls-to-the-wall version of Omar & The Howlers’ “Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty,” which was captured at The Gem Theater in St. Louis, Mich., and is the only live cut in the set.
Available through Amazon, Apple Music and other online retailers, this disc doesn’t cut much new ground, but the tunes are fun and the musicianship excellent throughout. If your tastes are old-school, there’s plenty here for you to enjoy.