As the long-time bassist for Downchild, a veritable institution in Canada (and unquestionably the country’s best-known blues band), Gary Kendall knows the blues very well indeed. But as a gigging musician – his own outfit is consistently one of the busiest around the Toronto area – Kendall knows that variety is the key to continued work.
Everything on “Feels Real Strong,” Kendall’s sophomore outing on his own 47 Records label, feels firmly rooted in the blues. But he wisely varies the playlist with an engaging mix of grooves, with the result a ready-made party platter with something for everyone.
Kendall’s responsible for all but one of the tunes here, and while the forms may be familiar there’s nothing formulaic in his compositions. He writes from the heart, and his laconic delivery is both thoroughly convincing and downright personable.
Kendall's band is a finely honed unit indeed. Guitarist Darran Poole is a marvel of tone and taste, every note precisely positioned for maximum effect. Wayne ‘Shakey’ Dagenais is a revelation on keys, his sparkling fills endlessly inventive yet firmly rooted in classic styles - this is a guy who's clearly done his homework. The drum chair is shared by Tyler Burgess and Mike Fitzpatrick, with Burgess contributing understated but effective harmonica on three tunes.
Material ranges from the easy-going sway of "Real Good Night" that kicks things off, to the downright dangerous grind of "Streeta Groove" that closes the party. Along the way there's rhumba-rhythm rock ‘n' roll ("When You Tell Me," the disc's lone cover courtesy of Kendall's old bandmate, Cash Wall), heartfelt balladry on "Feels So Strong," and an authentic zydeco feel on "Sugaree" thanks to guest ‘Same Day' Ray Walsh on both accordion and rubboard.
Kendall leaves no doubt regarding his musical intent with “Rainy Night In Hogtown,” powered by Pat Carey’s big baritone sax. Carey, another Downchild mainstay, is also responsible for horn arrangements on a couple of other tunes, including "Wall Of Love," a mature and thoughtful reflection on life's many blessings.
A thoroughly enjoyable outing all the way, "Feels Real Strong" is a compelling collection that borrows from and builds upon the blues while refusing to be confined by convention. Think of it as the stay-at-home equivalent of catching the best band on the circuit on a great night … this one’s well worth seeking out.