Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kenny Neal: “Bloodline” (2016) CD Review

As the frightening and depressing news continues unabated from Washington, D.C., it seems like it would be easy to succumb to misery and defeat. What can we do? Donald Trump seems determined to destroy everything that is good about this nation, and lead us down the darkest possible path. The only solace to be found is in music. And the blues seem particularly appropriate, and perhaps more needed than ever. Take this misery and this pain, and give it expression in song to gain some control over it. Isn’t that what the blues are all about? Isn’t that why the blues often make us feel so good? Well, Kenny Neal’s newest release, Bloodline, is certainly having that effect on me.

Bloodline features mostly original material, written by Kenny Neal. He is backed by an excellent group of musicians, including Tom Hambridge on drums and backing vocals, Bob Britt on guitar, Tommy MacDonald on bass, Noel Neal on bass, Lucky Peterson on keys, Kevin McKendree on keys, John Lancaster on keys, Steve Dawson on guitar, Quentin Ware on trumpet, Billy Huber on trombone, Tyler Summers on saxophone and Dana Robbins on saxophone. On backing vocals he is joined by the McCrary Sisters as well as what appears to be his entire family. Chris Carmichael provides the string arrangements. Bloodline follows Kenny Neal’s 2015 CD, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, one of the best Christmas albums of recent years.

It opens with “Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die,” and man, this is the happiest, most celebratory blues sound I’ve heard in a while, complete with horns and a good driving beat. I love it, and I need it. It was written by Kenny Neal, and the lyrics mention and celebrate many famous blues musicians. “We had Jimmy Reed, the Big Boss Man/We had Albert King playing the blues for you/We had Koko Taylor pitching a Wang Dang Doodle/Say I ain’t gon’ let the blues die.” That’s followed by “Bloodline,” the CD’s title track, also written by Kenny Neal and featuring a meaner Louisiana vibe, with some nice work by Neal on harmonica as well as guitar. And it certainly does seem like the blues run in his family. “Blues bloodline runs deep/I got the blues from my head to my feet.” There is a fantastic moment in the middle of this song, where the song breaks down to mainly drums and vocals, with some delicious backing vocals adding beauty and soul to the tune.

In “Plain Old Common Sense,” Kenny Neal sings, “Well, it’s best to think twice and only speak once/Don’t let your mouth overload your tongue/Sometimes it’s better to listen than to be heard/You’re better off not saying a word.” Common sense seems a rarity these days. Oh well. I really like this song. And it’s followed by one of my favorites, and the first cover of the album, Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” (one of Willie’s earliest songs, when he had short hair and was clean-shaven – yes, there was such a time). This tune has a sadder feel, and is kind of beautiful. Willie Nelson can sure write a good song, and Kenny Neal does a phenomenal job with it, delivering an honest, passionate and moving vocal performance. Plus, there are some nice backing vocals. “I gotta go now/I guess I’ll see you around/Don’t know when/I’ll be back in town.”

Kenny Neal then brings us back up again with “Keep On Moving,” an original tune that features some fun work on horns. In this one he offers this bit of advice: “You gotta take life in stride.” Indeed. “Life is an adventure with a lot of surprises/Things could change in the blink of an eye/Just when you think you made it through/The whole damn world come crashing on you.” Let’s hope things change for the better soon, because right now we are plummeting into a deep, dark abyss, with nothing to break our fall. But the groovy instrumental section of this song makes me feel a bit better. It’s hard to not enjoy life when you have a good jam going on. “I’m So Happy” is also fun and positive, with a great groove, and with Kenny Neal singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody worry me.” I keep trying to take that line to heart, but it’s damn near impossible these days. Still, the music is helping. “I’m So Happy” was written by Kenny Neal, Tom Hambridge and Syreeta Neal.

For a blues album, there are plenty of fun and uplifting songs here. “I Can’t Wait” is a playful, delightful tune written by Tom Hambridge, Seth Walker and Gary Nicholson, and it features more good work on harmonica. It’s about being happy and excited to get home to his girl. “I’m going to tell you how bad I missed you/I’m going to kiss you like I never kissed you/We’re going to start real early and stay up late/I can’t wait/I can picture how good you’re lookin’/I can smell what you got cookin’/Thinking about all the good love we’re going to make/I can’t wait.” Oh yes. We could all use some good lovin’ right about now. The other thing we all need is a good friend, someone we can call at any time, and that’s what “Real Friend” is about. Things are tough enough out there, we can’t get through it alone. Plus, I love the horns. This CD then ends with a tribute to B.B. King, “Thank You BB King.”  I said, the thrill ain’t gone/And your blues gonna live on.”

CD Track List
  1. Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die
  2. Bloodline
  3. Plain Old Common Sense
  4. Funny How Time Slips Away
  5. Keep On Moving
  6. I Go By Feel
  7. I’m So Happy
  8. Blues Mobile
  9. I Can’t Wait
  10. Real Friend
  11. Thank You BB King 
Bloodline was released on July 22, 2016 on Cleopatra Records.

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