Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kern Pratt Unleashes Broken Chains

Welcome back to Professor Johnny P’s Juke Joint. We’re getting ready to ring in the New Year with a lot of friends, a few specials, and some of the most amazing music you’ll hear in the thriving metropolis know as Jordan’s Branch. I’ve been meaning to write up my last review of 2015, but so many things got in the way that I’ve sneaked off to the office in order to get a little peace and quiet.
First of all, thank you for dropping by, thank you for listening to Time For The Blues, and thanks for helping to spread the word that the blues are alive and well. I’ve been spending most of the day putting the finishing touches to our list of Best of 2015 Albums and we’ll be playing those shows in early January. There are quite a few surprises on this year’s list and I’m thinking we might need to change the format for next year’s shows.
We’ve received so many amazing independent releases the past 12 months and it looks as if that trend will continue for some time to come. It used to be that you had to catch the eye of a major label to get your music recorded, but now, as long as you can come up with the money to record yourself you can distribute via the internet and get noticed by your audience and really make a splash.
In other words, keep those independent releases coming. They may not all be the greatest, but so many are fun that next year I’m thinking of putting out a Best of 2016 Independent CD show.
Send your nominations in early.
It’s also the time of Resolutions. I tend not to make too many so I don’t disappoint myself too quickly. Or, I sometimes resolve to do the opposite of what I really need to do so that when I mess up, I’m doing the thing I needed to do in the first place. So, I resolve to gain 20 pounds and to dress worse than normal at all times.
Those are pretty good.
But as far as this blog goes, I have to confess it became sort of a red-headed stepchild for a while. Even now, it’s not being updated nearly enough. So my resolution is to post twice a week; Sunday and either Wednesday or Thursday. That should keep me up on the new releases and give you more bang for your buck.
Let’s give a listen to our last review of 2015 and agree to meet back here in a few days, shall we?
I was drawn to Kern Pratt’s CD BROKEN CHAINS because of the cover. It was a simple bare tree and a distant horizon done in sepia tones. It was a nice quiet shot that immediately gave me a feeling of home. I know you can’t judge a book by its cover so I looked inside and found our old friend Eden Brent playing on a track as well as Kenny Neal.
Already this is looking promising.
Pratt wrote or co-wrote five of the disc’s twelve songs and provides guitar and vocals on all the tracks. He is backed by David Hyde on bass; Nelson Blanchard on drums, keyboards, and background vocals; Sam Brady on the B-3 organ; and a horn section comprised of Lacy Blackledge on trumpet; Bob Henderson on tenor and alto sax; Pete Verbois on baritone sax; and Chris Belleau on trombone and Luzianna washboard. Background vocals are provided by Denise Owen and Elaine Foster. Aside from Brent and Neal, Luc Borms guests on harp and Wes Lee plays resonator guitar on two songs.
BROKEN CHAINS has a very nice old school feel with more than a little swamp mixed in to keep things interesting. Pratt’s music is deeply steeped in the fertile ground of the Mississippi with a lot of influences coming at you straight on, and sneaking in from the edges. He’s got a great band, a strong voice, and a distinct personality that show affect every blues lover.
Delta Mourn’ is a very short piece of resonator guitar and morning sounds. Come on, it’s time to get up.
We quickly launch into Greenville Mississippi Blues, an homage to Pratt’s roots that uses some nice guitar riffs against the horn section and just a touch of Eden Brent’s boogie style piano. It’s a good roadhouse bouncy number that lets us know we’re going to have some fun with this album.
Pratt starts off with a blistering riff on Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home, a solid blues number. With growling vocals and guitar pyrotechnics, this is the kind of song that’s always going to be a standout whenever the band slides into it. It’s a great number, and I can only wonder how the crowds react when it’s played live.
Somewhere South Of Memphis continues the strong blues feel but slightly slows down the tempo. Pratt’s vocals are smoother and he slides in and out nicely letting the band take the leads. Brady’s B-3 trades off with Pratt’s guitar nicely.
Then Black Hannah tells the story of a musician’s lovely black guitar. BB King’s Lucille comes to mind, but there is that relationship between an artist and their medium. We all know musicians that can only create with a certain instrument to make sure the feel is just right. The song drives hard.
Pratt keeps the pace up with Cotton Pickin’. It’s a bouncy fun instrumental that showcases Pratt’s guitar and the entire horn section. Coming at roughly the half way point in the album it acts as a de facto intermission. It also reminds us that this band is tight and can play with anyone.
Don’t Leave Me Baby starts with some interesting percussion and some horn riffs leading quickly into the lyrics. It’s a plea from the bottom of the heart and Brady’s B-3 takes the song in nice direction. The interplay between the horns and the rest of the band is the spark that drives this group. They are well-disciplined and just basically smoke it. I can’t wait to see them live!
Next up is Mel London’s It Hurts Me Too. Pratt slows the tempo way down and Borms’ plaintive harp gives this song a distinctive sound. The band is stripped down to the barest essentials and it can’t help but make you sit up and listen. This is a great interpretation of an often neglected song.
The band picks up the pace with Handcuffed To The Blues, giving Pratt a canvas to paint his vocals. It’s easy to see that while he didn’t write this particular song, it has a strong meaning for Pratt. So many have endured tragedy in their lives and feel that wherever they go, whatever they do, that tragedy is always near the surface driving them. If it can be shaken, it’s often through some form of expression; music, art, writing, etc. Pratt uses his music to exorcise those demons and his pain is translated into music that moves us. It’s a great song.
Pratt’s guitar kicks off Smokin’ Gun, and Denise Owen takes the lead vocals out for a spin. It’s an interesting change of pace and her voice is strong and fits the song nicely.
There’s a little bit of honky tonk in Soulshake, the kind of song that wants you to get up and move what you’ve got. With the horns kicking in, it’s the kind of number that’s a sure crowd pleaser. Once again the group shows its versatility and just seems to be having fun.
The title track, Broken Chains, closes the CD with that same mournful resonator guitar bringing us full circle. Almost like a call to prayer, it reminds us that we all have those chains that surround us and don’t want to let us be free. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a way. God knows, Kern Pratt has found his way through the darkness, perhaps there is hope for us all.
Kern Pratt and company have put together a wonderful CD that mixes his Delta roots with a little bit of New Orleans voodoo magic, Kansas City boogie, and more than a heaping helping of Chicago jump. It’s got an awful lot of spice and something for just about everyone.
For information about where you can catch Pratt, check out his website at When you finally catch up to them, tell ‘em The Professor sent you!
Be safe in the New Year and the next time you’re in Jordan’s Branch, be sure to pay us a visit.

(Picture of Kern Pratt taken from his website. If you are the copyright holder and want it removed, you shouldn't have put it out there in the first place. Sigh, just let us know...) 

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