Kenny Neal plays Straight From The Heart

Kenny Neal plays Straight From The Heart

Kenny Neal plays Straight From The Heart a wonderful and varied blues album with impeccable playing throughout…playing with passion and a deep understanding of what blues soloing means.

Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful and varied blues album with impeccable playing throughout…playing with passion and a deep understanding of what blues soloing means.

When an artist’s releases have been through respected labels (in this case Alligator and Dixie Frog) and is then taken into the much respected Ruf Records stable, I am bound to pay attention. Kenny Neal is one of Ruf’s recent signings and releases his label debut, Straight From The Heart, on the 20th May.

Kenny’s debut debut, so to speak, was actually 1987’s Bio on the Bayou (re-released the following year as Big News From Baton Rouge!…those titles give a clue as to the musical roots: Louisiana swamp blues mixed with the smorgasbord of styles from his hometown, New Orleans. So, on this his 6th (I think) album, we can probably expect proper blues blended with bits of Cajun, jazz, R ’n’ B, funk and the occasional Zydeco accordingly (pun intended) slotted in.

Kenny is a supremely talented guitarist and harp player and has an enviable blues gravelled vocal that suits his music to a tee and, on the eleven tracks, he shows these skills to great effect. Incidentally, his father, harpist Raful Neal, was a Baton Rouge blues regular who played with such luminaries as Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo (who gave three-year-old Kenny his first harmonica). The family links don’t stop there either as a couple Neal family members appear and show they’re no slouches in their respective fields either.

The opening track, Blues Keep Chasing Me, sums it all up rather neatly as this horny, guitar and piano song brings a solid rhythm and blues structure that Kenny sings and plays in a way that describes the title perfectly. Great vocal and sensitive playing both behind the lyrics and in a superb, gentle solo that gives way to a suitably bluesy piano solo. The next track, Mount Up On The Wings Of The King features the formidable Christone “Kingfish” Ingram in a joyous two for one as they share vocals and guitar in an upbeat R’n’B song as the title is explained when BB King and Lucille get name-checks…the two guitarists feed BB’s trademark sound into their playing but ensure their own personalities shine through…a great rolling bass, piano and gentle snare work provide the perfect canvas for Kenny and Kingfish to trade phrases.

Bravery is next on the agenda, as Kenny puts his interpretation on the fantastic Jerry Beach, made famous by Albert King, song I’ll Play The Blues For You. Kenny does exactly what it says…subtle horns and Hammond washes set the scene for lots of lovely guitar playing and soloing that uses space as effectively as the beautifully toned single notes and the piano solo cleverly shouts ‘New Orleans.’  This version is now second only to Bernie Marsden’s and just supplants Joey B’s in my long list of cover versions…Albert still sneaks into first place!

Another, some might say unexpected guest features on the song Two Timing. Tito Jackson no less adds his deep, expressive vocals to the soulful song that hits the blues button when Kenny adds a varied and imaginative solo that again shows an inherent sense of how to pour emotion into every note and leave spaces to accentuate the drama. Louise Ana features Zydeco kings, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr on washboard and The Zydeco Twister (the brothers Dopsie) on accordion. (I still think the alcoholic apple beverage manufacturers in Somerset should adopt Zydeco as their music genre.) The title has an obvious reference to the State, and the music revels in the suitable slow blues/accordion blend…the added benefit comes from the harp solo: Kenny is a master of the gob iron as much as the guitar and he plays a great, restrained solo.

His harp play appears on It Don’t Cost Nothing too as the blues pour out of the vocals and the melodies…a clever bassline pins it nicely too. Another harp solo shows Kenny bringing the same sense of time and space to this instrument just as he does with his guitar. Bon Temps Rouler is Cajun French and the usual phrase is “laissez les bons temps rouler” which roughly translates into “let the good times roll” although the French French would question its grammar, it’s good enough for me and with Rockin’ Dopsie Jr washing that board frantically and The Zydeco Twister back in full accord (I’ll stop now!) with Kenny on playing neat runs on a lovely toned guitar that’s carried over into a tasty solo. It’s Been So Long pays a brilliant homage to his father Raful, who released this excellent, traditional harp blues on the Whit label back in 1970 I think. It does bear similarities to Memphis Slim’s It’s Been Too Long and has a sort of Blueberry Hill roll to it…regardless, the original was great and this very sympathetic reading is even better.

Romance is in the air on Someone Somewhere as the piano and horns take the lead until Kenny adds a descriptive guitar solo after the sax has spoken. I Got To Tell Somebody is a bouncy, jazzy New Orleans blues with lovely guitar running through and a brilliant piano backing and solo.

The final track, New Orleans, will have you thinking you’re on Bourbon Street joining in the revelries as the bounce carries you away…the “down by the riverside” horn melodies bring a smile and the excellent percussion, piano nearly make up for the lack of a fiery guitar solo, although if you listen behind the denouement, there is some clever guitar work going on.

A wonderful album of varied blues from a talented blues guitar and harp player, backed by a (large) and stellar cast of musicians. Kenny plays solos that speak and his deep understanding of the blues means there is no needless flashiness, just sufficient notes and spaces to communicate his message.


Kenny Neal plays Straight From The Heart

Track listing:
Blues Keep Chasing Me
Mount Up On The Wings Of The King Feat. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
I’ll Play The Blues For You
Two Timing Feat. Tito Jackson
Louise Ana Feat. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr And The Zydeco Twister
It Don’t Cost Nothing
Bon Temps Rouler Feat. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr And The Zydeco Twister It’s Been So Long
Someone Somewhere
I Got To Tell Somebody
New Orleans

Kenny Neal: Vocals, Guitar; Harmonica (track 5,6,8)
Darnell Neal: Bass Guitar (track 1,2,3,4,6,8,10,11)
Arnet Hayes: Piano (track 1)
Jason Parfait: Saxophone (track 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)
Ian Smith: Trumpet (track 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)
Brandon Adams: Hammond B3 (track 1,2,3,4,6,8,9,10); Keyboard (track 4); Piano (track 6)
Michael Harris: Drums (track 1,4,6,8,9)
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram: Vocals, Guitar (track 2)
Sharisse Norman, Shontelle Norman-Beatty: Background Vocals (track 2)
Bryan Morris: Drums (track 2,3,10,11)
Orlando Henry: Piano (track 3)
Tito Jackson: Vocals (track 4)
Syretta Neal: Vocals (track 4)
Lee Allen: Bass Guitar (track 5,7)
Big Nate Williams: Accordion (track 5,7
Rockin Dopsie Jr: Washboard (track 5,7,11)
Kevin Menard: Drums (track 5,7)
Anthony Dopsie, Dwayne Dopsie: Accordion (track 7)
Terrell Griffin: Bass Guitar (track 9)
Darrell Jefferson: Piano (track 9)
Arnet Hayes: Piano (track 11)

Connect with Kenny Neal across SOCIAL MEDIA
Official Website

(iTunes moved onto the next Kenny in line…not Mr Wayne Shepherd, he’s next, but Kenny Parker and his excellent 2019 album, Hellfire.)

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