Willie Kent has been making albums for many years now, but "Comin' Alive!", his debut for the Blue Chicago label, marks another couple of firsts for the premier bass player. Kent is the first solo artist to be signed to the small, but well-respected label, and it is the first time he has sat in the producer's chair (alongside Twist Turner and guitarist Haguy F. King).
Although generally associated with Chicago--his home for nearly half a century--Kent thinks of himself as a Delta bluesman, and "Comin' Alive!" owes at least as much to Memphis and the south as it does to the windy city. This quickly becomes apparent on the excellent opening rendition of Sterling Plumpp's "Lonely Streets". Kent is in top form on vocals and bass, and Haguy F. King's on guitar sounds uncannily like his namesake Albert. Add a pinch of horns, and the result is something close to a Memphis Soul Stew. Kent further acknowledges his roots on the ensuing autobiographical "Born in the Delta", which features some very neat piano by Allen Batts.
The quality of material barely wavers throughout (Kent wrote 10 of the 12 tracks), and there is enough variety to keep everybody interested. Particular favorites include the soul/funk workout of "Look Like It's Gonna Rain" (the second of four tracks where the horn section get to strut their stuff), the excellent "Bad Luck", and the Gospel-like "Someone You Should Know" which rounds things out in fine style, helped by the harmonizing of the Gospel Supremez (Shirley Johnson, Diane Womack, and Joi Fité).
The Blue Chicago label have struck gold yet again with "Comin' Alive!". This is Willie Kent at his very best, working in tandem with a band he knows and trusts implicitly. There seems little doubt that "Comin' Alive!" is going to be up among the front-runners when they hand out the awards for best album of 2001.
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This review is copyright © 2001 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, 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.