A member of one of the best-known families in the blues, Kenny Neal has certainly earned the right to sing about his bloodline. Aside from being the son of harp master Raful Neal, he is the brother to Noel who played bass for James Cotton, and five of his other brothers have all worked in the business, some of the time with Kenny as members of The Neal Brothers. In fact, Darnell and Fred Neal are currently playing bass and keys respectively with him.
Growing up in the blues exposed Neal to high expectations as he rubbed elbows with the likes of Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo. As he developed as an artist he became the standard bearer for the swamp sound of Louisiana blues, releasing albums on Alligator, Telarc, Blind Pig, various Independent labels, and has found a home at Cleopatra who released his previous album, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and his current album, Bloodline.
Somewhere during all that time of recording and touring, Neal found the time to take a featured role in the Broadway play Mule Bone, where he sang songs penned by the great Taj Mahal.
You might say Kenny Neal has been a busy man since he started working in his father’s band as a teenager.
This most recent release is an electrifying collection of ten songs that Neal wrote or co-wrote eight of those ten. He also covered a Willie Nelson classic, with Tom Hambridge, Gary Nicholson, Seth Walker, and Syreeta Neal contributing on the other songs. Neal himself handles the lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica and is joined by Hambridge on drums, percussion, and background vocals; Bob Britt on guitar; Tommy MacDonald and Noel Neal on bass; Lucky Peterson, Kevin McKendree, and John Lancaster on keyboards; Steve Dawson on Weissonborn Guitar; Quentin Ware on Trumpet; Billy Huber on trombone; Tyler Summers and Dana Robbins on sax; strings and string arrangements are by Chris Carmichael; and the background vocals are provided by Syreeta Neal, Tyrell Neal, Jazzy Neal, Briné Neal, Kaydence Bates Neal, Tahj Mosby Neal, Darien Neal, and the McCrary Sisters.
You get a lot of Neals on Bloodline. And maybe that’s how it should be.
The album starts off with a promise as Neal proclaims, Ain’t Gon Let The Blues Die. Surrounded by a fat horn sound and a strong rhythm section, Neal runs down a list of some of the who’s who of the blues. He then throws in one of his trademark guitar runs for good measure. A raucous fun number.
He slows the tempo down on Bloodline creating a great deep swamp sound. He mixes piano and harp to establish a dark mood. The effect is chilling and the song is a mini masterpiece of the genre. It tells an amazing story.
The band gets to swinging on Plain Old Common Sense. It’s a look at those folks who might have a ton of school behind them (“educated fools”) versus those folks who are blessed with the ability to use common sense. We all know that common sense just isn’t that common anymore…
The Willie Nelson classic, Funny How Time Slips Away, fits perfectly here. If you are looking at family and bloodlines, it’s just too easy to see how quickly things can disappear. It’s a great sentimental song, and Neal does a beautiful interpretation of it.
Those fat horns and some electrifying keyboards pick things up on the optimistic Keep On Moving. There’s more than a taste of gospel in this blues gumbo, and the song is a real pick me up after the sentimental nature of the previous one. While things may have changed, it’s time to take back control!
Slow and intense is the mood created by the next song, I Go By Feel. Neal uses his guitar to set the mood and he digs down for the emotions necessary for the number. He picks the tempo up a little bit with I’m So Happy. The horns are bright and the lyrics are looking at the sunny side of life.
Time to get a little party going on with Blues Mobile. As Americans, we love our cars and spend much of our time on the highways. Might as well make sure we’ve got the right music and attitude going. Honestly, I feel like this much of the time and I bet you do as well…
A quieter song follows, I Can’t Wait, is a gentle number of longing. For those who may think the road is nothing but a nonstop party, it’s also being away from those you love the most – and being away from the place you call home. Home and family are the most important things in life and that’s kind of the message of Bloodline. Take it to heart.
Neal and the band get to rocking on Real Friend. Friends are an important part of our lives and being understanding is a large part of that. If you find yourself needing someone – reach out to your real friend. They’re quite rare.
The album concludes much in the way it began, with an homage to the blues giants who have made the business what it is today. Thank You BB King is self-explanatory as Neal pays homage to the man who embodied the blues and helped raise its visibility with non-fans of the genre.
There’s probably nothing more I can say to entice you to try this great album, so let me just drop one more tidbit on you, Bloodline has been nominated for a Grammy Award at the 59th Grammy Award Ceremony in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. So it’s not just me that has fallen under its spell, and if you give it a chance, I think you’ll embrace this wonderful collection.
In the meantime, check out some of Kenny Neal’s earlier work at http://kennyneal.net/ and be sure to look for tour dates. If you ever get a chance to catch him live, do it. You will not regret catching this great talent.