Guitarist/singer/harmonica player/songwriter Kenny Neal, 42, is one of the most consistent, and critically under-recognized, talents in contemporary blues. Kenny is the son of Baton Rouge, La.'s legendary harmonica player Raful Neal, and the oldest in a musical family that also includes Noel and Ray Neal, bandmates of James Cotton and Bobby "Blue" Bland.
After an apprenticeship in his father's band as a teenager, Neal went out on the road, playing bass with Buddy Guy. He's never strayed far from those early inspirations, remaining steeped in swamp blues and dramatic Chicago-informed guitar solos.
Blessed with a booming voice and impeccable chops, Neal's greatest asset is his economic delivery. The current crop of teenaged guitar phenoms should take a lesson from Neal's unwavering commitment to the heart of his songs; he lets his lyrics guide his on-the-money harp and six-string accompaniment, and he's liable to play almost anything onstage.
Neal's multiple talents shine brightest through "What You Got," which features the syncopated funk of "Little Brother (Make a Way)," the brilliantly arranged slow blues lament "Blues Ain't Nothing But a Good Man Feeling Bad," and "I Smell Smoke" a moving statement of Neal's mission that steers clear of maudlin territory. "What You Got" strikes a perfect balance between classic and contemporary styles, nimbly moving from powerful readings of the title track Jerry Lynn Williams) and Jim Weider/Randy Clarlante/James Fullin's "I'm the Man Your Mama Told You About" to the Neal/Bob Greenlee "Never Thought About Growing Old," a poignant reminder that most of us will grow old before we ever find true love.
Folks who love the sounds of Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo, Buddy Guy, Larry Garner and Tab Benoit will want to grab a listen to this fine Telarc Blues release.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Matt Alcott, 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.