Kenny Neal – Straight From The Heart | Album Review

Kenny Neal – Straight From The Heart

Ruf Records – 2022

11 tracks; 47 minutes

Kenny Neal returned to his Louisiana roots to make this record, having never before recorded on home turf. The recording studio was in Baton Rouge and mixing was done by Boo Mitchell at Royal Studios in Memphis. Kenny might be considered a veteran, yet this album has a freshness and vibrancy, making it his best in a long time, the music ranging widely on six originals and five covers. Kenny is on vocals, guitar and harmonica and is joined by Darnell Neal and Terrell Griffin on bass, Michael Harris and Bryan Morris on drums, Arnet Hayes, Brandon Adams, Orlando Henry and Darrell Jefferson provide keyboards and a two man horn section contributes to every track: Ian Smith on trumpet and Jason Parfait on sax, with arrangements by Kenny and Brandon Adams. Backing vocals on two songs come from Sharisse Norman and Shontelle Norman-Beatty while Tito Jackson and Syreeta Neal join Kenny on vocals on one song. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters appear on two cuts: Anthony Dopsie, Dwayne Dopsie and Big Nate Williams on accordion, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. on washboard, Lee Allen on bass and Kevin Menard on drums; Rockin’ Dopsie also adds his washboard to the final track, “New Orleans”.

The album opens in fine style with “Blues Keep Chasing Me”, that classic tale of being dogged by the blues, the horns outstanding, but “Mount Up On The Wings Of The King” is simply superb, recent Grammy winner Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram co-writing and sharing guitar duties, with perhaps a message for some of Kingfish’s fellow Grammy winners: “Don’t touch a string until you’ve listened to some BB King”. Showing that he has deep respect for more than one King, Kenny follows that with a brilliant cover of “I’ll Play The Blues For You”, demonstrating as sure a touch on the typical Albert bends as he did on the BB tribute. Tito Jackson guests on vocals on “Two Timing”, a slinky Rn’B tune about infidelity written by Tito’s regular songwriter, Michael Kurt Jackson, and there are two zydeco tunes on which Kenny is backed by The Zydeco Twisters, “Bon Temps Rouler” and “Louise Ana” (or Louisiana!). Kenny closes the album with a swaggering tribute to “New Orleans” including a few cheeky quotes from New Orleans classics.

Of course, Kenny plays harmonica as well as guitar, as he does on the gently rolling “Louise Ana” and “It Don’t Cost Nothing”, an urgent call for people to behave better to one another: “If you let evil get the best of you, you are the one to blame”. He also plays some high-pitched harp on his late father Raful’s “It’s Been So Long”. A fine version of Junior Parker’s “Someone Somewhere” is dedicated to Raful and is another outstanding cut with great sax and guitar. The cover of Joe ‘Survival’ Caruso’s “I Got To Tell Somebody” has arguably Kenny’s best guitar work on the album, but, frankly, every track is great. Definitely recommended!

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