When Kenny Neal released his sophomore recording in 1987, Big News From Baton Rouge, he gave us a taste of swamp blues. Raw and pure was this multi-instrumentalist sound. However, Neal's latest release, One Step Closer, is a long ways from the swamp.
Kenny Neal has been known for his awareness of the region's time-honored blues tradition and imaginative enough to steer it in fresh directions. Neal's scorching guitar work, stalwart harp and rough and rugged vocals carried him to record 5 albums for Alligator and established him as a force in blues music.
Never afraid to stretch the boundaries, each of his (now 10) recordings give us another glimpse at the innovation of this second-generation bluesman. On his current recording, Neal interjects the traditional Louisiana sound of the accordion along with mandolin and fiddle. The quandary Kenny Neal faces is the inability to balance out the instrumentation without losing the feel of the music. Although One Step Closer has its bright spots such as the Sonny Landreth composition, Congo Square and the very soulful original track, She Aint Happy Unless She's Sad, they are rare on this disc. Vastly overproduced, each track sounds contrived and stainless.
It is a nice effort and Neal should be applauded for again breaking from the "norm", however, One Step Closer just does not measure up to his past recordings.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Engelhart, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.