Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne – Go, Just Do It!
13 songs, 51 minutes
Contemporary Blues is a melting pot of influence and style most interesting when tipping the hat to the legends while developing something personal and unique within a well worn and, sadly at times, hackneyed idiom. Kenny ‘Blues Boss” Wayne, the Canadian based pianist, band leader, singer and songwriter, is a modern master of eclectic cross genre Contemporary Blues. On his most recent self produced album Go, Just Do It! the Blues Boss lays out 9 originals, 2 Percy Mayfield covers (the Bob Dylan of the Blues) and a surprisingly effective cover of J.J. Cale’s bar-band abused “Call Me the Breeze.” Studded with female guest vocalists led by the powerhouse Dawn ‘Tyler’ Watson and the cool emotive legend Diane Schuur and a hip rap verse from Wayne’s son Cory ‘SeQual’ Spruell, Go, Just Do It! is a fully realized multifaceted Blues party full of R&B thump, Boogie Woogie stride, stanky Funk and songwriting that goes from fun and sexy to deep and meditative.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne is a performer with style and flash. Wearing colorful suits and sporting a tight hard hitting band resplendent with horns, Wayne is a hard charging pianist and a soulful singer with a slightly more baritone B.B. King style of delivery who puts on a show behind his 88 keys. Sometimes a first rate live experience doesn’t translate when put down on record, not the case here. Wayne’s band is anchored by ex B.B. bassist Russell Jackson and Joey ‘The Pocket’ DiMarco. Sherman ‘Tank’ Doucette adds harmonica here and there and Wayne’s ‘Best Man’ Barry Sharbo plays tambourine throughout. Tasteful and song-serving guitarist Yuji Ihara interplays with Kenny’s piano playing. Important to note that although the piano is an important part of Wayne’s delivery and certainly is central, this is not piano centric music. Complimented by Jerry Cook on saxes, Vince Mai on trumpet and background vocals from Julie Masi, this band serves the song. All musical voices support the vocals and the trajectory of the lyrical narrative. It is part of the reason why the 3 duets (2 with Watson and 1 with Schuur) and the Rap/Blues crossover (which are rarely as seamless and holistic as it is here) work so well.
So what does Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s contemporary mix of Blues really sound like? It can only be described as eclectic. Lead title track “Just Do It!” is an Albert Collins styled Funk Blues romp. This duet with Watson has horns flashing over a Johnny B. Gayden styled slap bass. Mr. Wayne’s piano solos are even indebted to the Iceman’s economical stinging Tele stabs. “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough,” another Watson feature, is a minor key Prince informed groove about heartache. “That’s The Way She Is” is an upbeat feel good song about how fine his object of affection is that would fit right in more mainstream Blues artists such as Keb’ Mo’ or Bonnie Raitt’s catalogues. Then of course Wayne, a boogie woogie practitioner, also knows how to jump the Blues in the Louis Jordan school, examples include the two instrumentals: mid-tempo “Bumpin’ Down The Highway” and album closer “Let The Rock, Roll.”
The two Percy Mayfield covers are both incendiary for very different reasons. Dueting with Diane Schurr, “You’re In For A Big Surprise” is a smoldering medium-slow testimony of a person’s self worth in the face of adversity. Schurr is truly featured as the first voice we hear taking all the verses while Mr. Wayne takes on the “B” sections of the arrangement in full Ray Charles anguish. A soulful sax solo precedes a delicate and smooth piano solo. And hold out for Ms. Schurr’s final falsetto wail at the very end, it’s chilling. On the flip side is the boogie funk of Mayfield’s “I Don’t Want To Be the President.” In this electoral year this is a timely cover pull. This is the track with Wayne’s son SeQual’s rapping. Taking the spot where an instrumental solo would be, SeQual raps with an assured flow and a voice that has the same deep baritone inflection as his dad. Musing about being a mechanic or maybe just a good man and musician like his “pops,” SeQual’s verse fits because the musical foundation of the track has the strong beat and no frills bass needed to successfully rap over. A triumph in cross-genre (and cross-generational) exploration.
Kenny Wayne truly is the “Blues Boss.” A unique and gifted talent, Wayne is a complete package. An effective and creative songwriter (often hard to find in the Blues), an impassioned singer, a master pianist, a slick and powerful live performer, a band leader who obviously has great relational management skills and a thoughtful and sensitive self-producer. Go, Just Do It! is a new career high water mark for the Blues Boss.