Kenny Neal is a bluesman through and through. He won't knock you out with guitar gymnastics a la Buddy Guy or stun you with his voice like Luther Allison or cause you to do double takes on his harp licks as you would with Sugar Blue. But, in addition to his excellent songwriting, thoughtful song selection, and brick-solid musicianship, what Neal has to offer is an undefinable quality -- call it heart, balls, soul, whatever -- that makes anything he does worth listening to.
Witness Hoodoo Moon, Neal's fifth release for Alligator. "I'm a Bluesman" begins the record by stating the theme, kicking butt, and naming names: "I took my first bath in Muddy Water," he sings, also citing cats such as Jimmy Reed blasting from his childhood radio. (An acoustic version of "It Hurts Me Too" -- probably the only song on this set you've heard before -- shows how well Neal learned from his predecessors.) A clever boogie written by Neal and King Snake label-chief Bob Greenlee (who shares producer's credits and hefts bari sax as part of a steaming horn sec) has some witty verses built around the theme, don't fix our love if it ain't broke: "Don't say goodbye if I ain't gone/Don't saw this limb we're sittin' on." Although our favorite tune here, a slow-grinder called "If Heartaches Were Nickels," is not a Neal original, he definitely puts his stamp on it, croaking some way-down lyrics: "If wine and pills were dollar bills/I'd keep you satisfied/And if broken dreams were limousines/I'd take you for a ride." That, my friends, is stone-cold blues.
And if anyone can lay claim to knowing what the blues should feel and sound like, it's the son of veteran blues harpist-singer Raful Neal, who he pays tribute to on the appropriately titled "Carrying the Torch."
Backed by a tough team of musicians, including Kenny's outstanding bassist brother Noel, and Lucky Peterson doing his usual bang-up job on keys, Neal displays big chops. And big heart.
By Bob Weinberg
Kenny Neal performs tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow night at 8:30 and 11:00 each night at Musicians Exchange, 729 W Sunrise Blvd, Ft Lauderdale; 764-1912. Tickets cost ten dollars.
Rich, layered sonic jam. Thick as marmalade but short on tunes that stick.
By Todd Anthony
The Tattooed Heart
The look, the sound, the feel...of sellout. Even his cotton commercial wasn't this cloying.
The angelic-voiced Neville Brother's heart's got a tattoo all right, and it reads "VH-1." With the exception of two superbad funk tracks -- "Down Into Muddy Water" and Bill Wither's evergreen "Use Me" -- and a shiver-inducing version of "Crying in the Chapel," this is the worst pop dreck he's released yet. Sure, everybody plays the fool, but don't be foolish enough to throw good money after this wussy effort, even if you're a fan. Especially if you're a fan. It'll break your heart.
By Bob Weinberg
There's something just a wee bit annoying -- and extremely transparent -- about a band that starts whining about the trials of fame before it's even famous. It's the same sort of hubris, I guess, that led Pavement to schedule a tour without really learning how to play live. That little stunt, along with their amoebic lineup, earned the boys in Pavement the official slack-rocker tag, one they despise, but have done little to discredit.
Be all that as it may, I am not going to trash the band's new disc. Zowee Wowee is no masterpiece. But it's a helluva lot more interesting to listen to than another goddamn unplugged album, or a compilation of young wannabes covering Richard Thompson and John Hiatt.
There are eighteen songs on the album, and most every one has something to recommend it. I can do without vocalist Stephen Malkmus and his endless yelping, but there are solid hooks hiding in the loosey-goosey arrangements. Guitars buzz and squall and the rhythms rattle and thump and every now and again -- very much by mistake, I expect -- Pavement rocks.
It's not the aural faceplant all those smug little fans were expecting. "Rattled by the Rush" might even garner some airplay, God forbid. Try not to hold it against our unwitting heroes. They probably had no idea what they were doing.
By Steven Almond
Count Basie-Joe Turner
There's no shortage of recorded output from barrel-shaped Kansas City shouter Big Joe Turner. But Pablo's The Bosses, an early Seventies session just released on disc, is exceptional.
In the company of K.C. cohort Count Basie on piano, and a remarkable band including the likes of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Zoot Sims on tenor saxes, "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Ray Brown on bass, and Louie Bellson on drums, Big Joe's sensual slur marries blues and jazz idioms superbly (dig Turner's sublime and witty phrasing on the pop standard "Since I Fell For You").
Needless to say the ensemble swings tightly and mightily, adding a new dimension to Turner's signature R&B tunes "Flip, Flop and Fly," "Blues Around the Clock," and "Honey Hush" (although we miss the shouted answer to Big Joe's "Hi yo, hi yo, Silver" from the band members who content themselves to just blow their responses on their respective axes). But where this collection really burns is on slow sexy numbers such as Joe Liggins's "Honeydripper" and the outrageous "Cherry Red" ("I want you to boogie my woogie," Big Joe bellows, "until my face turns cherry red").
Even in front of his legendary big band, a version of which is coming to Coral Gables Congregational Church tonight (see "Calendar" for more), Basie's piano playing had a bluesy, late-night feel, which is showcased all the more with this small group, although the Count's more than capable of rocking out as on "Honey Hush" and "Blues Around the Clock." From Zoot's lush and breathy romanticism to Lockjaw's high-centigrade honky-tonking, the horns brilliantly provide whatever is called for. As for the rhythm section, Bellson's drumming is nothing less than inspired, as are the rich tonalities of bassman Brown. But there's little doubt as to who the title of this disc refers to.
Big Joe and Basie both have long since passed, and this re-release only reaffirms their status as giants whose like will not be seen again.
By Bob Weinberg
David "Fathead" Newman
Mr. Gentle, Mr. Cool
Gee-zus, no! Not another Ellington tribute album! That may be your first reaction when hearing of David "Fathead" Newman's contribution to the bulging bins of records paying homage to one of America's greatest composers. Still, this is a pretty damn fine effort.
Recording for flautist Herbie Mann's Kokopelli label, the one-time Ray Charles saxman sails straight-ahead, sounding much more vital than his previous outing in service of Mann (the dull Memphis-soul-rehash-done-jazzlike, Deep Pocket).
Mr. Gentle, Mr. Cool teases the title of an obscure bit of Ellingtonia from the Fifties, laid down here in elegant form with Newman's sax trading lines with Ron Carter's sweet-toned piccolo bass. The marvelous old songs displayed here are well served by the renowned R&B saxophonist, who remains steadfastly traditional, but invigorating nonetheless. (Much of the credit for the freshness of this set, however, can be attributed to Carter.)
A spiffy read of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" kicks off the celebration, which is followed by a stroll down Blue Avenue with the stunning ballad "Prelude to a Kiss," perhaps the highlight of the session. Newman alternates between alto and tenor, and even blows flute (almost as nicely as label-chief Mann) on one tune, in front of a small but mighty ensemble. Bassist Carter is utilized more as a soloist (like "an additional horn," read the liners) than just as rhythm, augmenting some fine stand-up bass from Peter Washington. David Leonhardt takes Duke's parts, adding tasteful piano fills and solos. But make no mistake: Despite the excellent musicianship, it's really the songs that take center stage. And isn't that what a tribute album is all about?
By Bob Weinberg
"Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington" is on display through May 31 at the Broward County Main Library, 100 S Andrews Ave, Ft Lauderdale; 357-7444. Admission is free. See "Calendar" for more.
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