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Kenny Neal - Hooked On Your Love

Blind Pig Records

www.kennyneal.net

12 tracks

Kenny Neal is an amazing artist. Approaching his 53rd birthday in October, he is truly the master of his craft. Neal has toured since age 17 (he was Buddy Guy’s bass man) and was in his Dad’s band four years prior to that. He’s been singing, strumming, blowing or keying since he was three years old. He has a number of great CDs, but his first recording for Blind Pig was musically and emotionally stupendous. In my mind and in the minds of many others his “Let Life Flow” CD was the pinnacle of his recording career. Well, there is a new peak in the mountain range of Neal’s successes; “Hooked On Your Love” has surpassed “Let Life Flow” and easily ranks among the year’s best albums!

Swamp boogie. Cajun blues. Gospel gumbo. Zydeco swing. This music is an amalgamation of everything Neal has ever heard blended into a smooth and flowing 21st century groove. The blues are alive and kicking hard in this guy’s mind and he expresses his musical sensibilities as no one else can. Since his illness in 2005 he has rebounded with the best music of his career over these last two albums.

Vocally, Neal gives us a rich roux of sound, oozing with butter, lard and bacon drippings. His Louisiana upbringing is evident in his soulful and expressive vocals. His lead guitar is clean and equally delicious, as is Vasti Jackson on rhythm guitar backing him up. Darnell Neal provides the bass while Kenny Jr, Bryan Morris and Tony Coleman share the drums. Lots of other support comes in song to song, and the effort overall is fantastic, coordinated and musically superb.

Neal opens with the title track. Vocals and guitars flow and swing back and forth and set the bar high. He follows that up with a very soulful “Bitter With the Sweet”; both originals that showcase he can write hit songs with the best of them. He then switches gears to Creole pop styled cut entitled “Down in the Swamp” for a change of pace a a little dirty harp sound. The first cover is O.V. Wright’s “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” which was also covered by the Derek Trucks Band a few years ago. Neal gives us a gritty and bouncy take on this classic. Lucky Peterson nicely joins the fray here (and on several more tracks) on organ, too. He follows that with Little Milton’s “If Walls Could Talk” and gives us some finger picking in Milton’s style of play. “Things Have Got to Change” slows down the pace and gives us the sound of a big horn section delivered well along with some smooth keys by Peterson.

“New Lease on Life” is a greasy blues tune followed by the last two covers: Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” and Spencer Wiggins’ “Old Friend”. Real down and dirty numbers in styles he’s been familiar with for his entire life. He slows it back down for “Tell Me Why”, a haunting and mellow number where he and Peterson shine. On “Voodoo Mama” we get the big New Orleans marching band sound of the brass and horns mixed in beautifully; one can almost feel a parade starting. The CD closes with “You Don’t Love Me” (not the Willie Cobb number the Allman Brothers have covered countless times) is a jumpy and catchy original rocking R&B cut with a swinging guitar solo.

I was impressed by this album from start to finish. There are no bad or even tepid tracks here; there are a dozen hot and heavy songs (8 new) that Neal with his friends and relatives deliver with all the Cajun charm and appeal one can dream up. Don’t delay in adding this one to your collection- it’s Neal’s best yet. If he keeps on getting better I can’t imagine where he’ll wind up, but I can’t wait to hear his next CD in a couple of years given the first two Blind Pig deliveries!

Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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