Cleopatra Records – 2016
11 tracks; 45 minutes
Next time you run into one of those people who say that “blues music is depressing” just play them this album (especially “I’m So Happy”) and they should change their opinion because Kenny Neal’s new album is joyously positive, despite recent problems caused to Kenny and his family by flooding in his home area of Louisiana. Since 2010’s Hooked On Your Love Kenny has only issued a Christmas album, no doubt in part a result of Blind Pig’s demise, but he has now found a new home at Cleopatra and this album is a keeper. Kenny remains a genuine triple threat on vocals, guitar and harp and wrote eight of the eleven tracks here. He is supported by lots of family members, Noel on bass and no fewer than seven Neals on backing vocals! The McCrary sisters’ gospel tones are also involved in the B/V’s and a superb horn section of Dana Robbins and Tyler Summers on sax, Quentin Ware on trumpet and Billy Huber on trombone fill out the sound considerably. Other musicians involved include Bob Britt and Steve Dawson on guitar, Chris Carmichael on strings, Tommy Macdonald on bass, Lucky Peterson, Kevin McKendree and John Lancaster on keyboards and Tom Hambridge who plays drums throughout and co-produced the album with Kenny in Nashville.
The CD opens with Kenny’s slippery slide featured on “Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die”, a gospel-tinged and horn-driven tune that name-checks many of the great blues musicians from Robert Johnson to Koko Taylor, Kenny promising to “keep the music alive”. “Bloodline” explores Kenny’s family links to the music, Kenny switching to harp on a swampy tune and “Plain Old Common Sense” is a great horn-infused shuffle with soulful guitar from Kenny who makes a plea for people to learn from their mistakes. Willie Nelson’s frequently covered “Funny How Time Slips Away” receives a respectful string arrangement over which Kenny’s guitar soars in the solo. Kenny’s toe-tapper “Keep On Moving” has a great horn arrangement with swirling organ, making it one of the highlight tracks here though the cover of Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson’s “I Go By Feel” gives it a close run. Buddy Guy cut this fine song on his last album Born To Play Guitar,and Kenny’s version stands up well in comparison, the horns adding an extra dimension to Kenny’s subtle and emotional guitar playing.
The previously mentioned “I’m So Happy” is a co-write between Kenny, his daughter Syreeta and Tom Hambridge, a gloriously positive song with more fine guitar and horns. Kenny follows many before him by writing about a car in “Blues Mobile”, appropriately fast-paced with Kenny’s harp leading the way with some excellent rocking piano driving the song. “I Can’t Wait” is another Hambridge/Nicholson song, this time with Seth Walker added to the credits: it’s an acoustic piece featuring Steve Dawson’s Weissonborn guitar over a sparse hand percussion arrangement, Kenny delivering the lyrics about getting home to his loved one very convincingly as well as adding some great back-porch harp. Two more originals close out the album: in “Real Friend” Kenny reminds us that when times are tough you need genuine friends for support and he’s ready to take that call – trumpet, sax and guitar solos all add to a feel-good song; Kenny pays heartfelt tribute in “Thank You BB King”, a very fast-paced shuffle in typical BB King orchestra style that includes references to Lucille and “The Thrill Is Gone” as well as some very BB-like guitar playing.
Bloodline is nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album in the 2017 Grammy Awards.This is a fine album from Kenny that many blues fans will enjoy and comes recommended.