11 songs; 50:11 minutes; Library Quality
Style: Soulful Louisiana Swamp Blues
They’ve killed Kenny! Those bastar...... Wait a minute! Kenny isn’t dead. Kenny Neal is alive and well, with a new album. My apologies for the lame South Park reference, but Neal has been missing from the scene for three years due to health problems. Those issues forced Kenny away from the studio and touring. His first release since signing with Blind Pig Records finds him returning with a renewed vigor and outlook on life.
Recorded in West Columbia, SC, Let Life Flow is full of the laid back, soulful grooves that have garnered him a solid fan base over the past 20 years. Usually the phrase “easy listening music” is the kiss of death, but taken as a sincere compliment, this phrase accurately describes the music which is as soothing as a good back rub. Scott Cable, along with Neal and his son, Kenny Jr. co-produced the album as a reflection of Neal’s optimistic sense of perseverance.
Let Life Flow marks the return of the multi-instrumentalist and modern swamp-blues maven. It is an inspired set that draws musically from Louisiana sounds, while striking a deep, emotional chord in response to the personal trials he has recently endured. In addition to his recent frailty, Neal suffered the passing of his father, Raful, a brother, a sister, and a drummer – all within eleven months in 2004-2005.
Of the album, Kenny said: “With all the tragedy and darkness I’ve been through in the past three years, I’m finally seeing the light. I’ve been waiting for a long time for a record company to say ‘Make a record that you feel good about.’ Blind Pig Records gave me that opportunity. And my new CD, Let Life Flow, is coming straight from my heart.”
Neal, born and raised in Baton Rouge, began playing music at a very young age, learning the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica player, Raful Neal. Family friends like Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo also contributed to Kenny’s early musical education. In fact, it was Harpo who gave the crying three-year-old a harmonica to pacify him. Learning to play the harmonica, he also mastered the bass, trumpet, piano and guitar. At 13, he joined his father’s band and began paying his musical dues. Four years later, he was recruited and toured extensively as Buddy Guy’s bass player.
Following Buddy's advice to concentrate on his guitar playing, Kenny crafted a successful career in which he has shared the stage and worked with a who’s-who list of blues and R& B greats including B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters, Aaron Neville, Buddy Guy, and John Lee Hooker.
Signing with Alligator Records in 1988, Kenny began releasing a series of consistently lauded albums. After his impressive run with Alligator, Kenny switched to Telarc, and continued to release albums highlighting his developing skills as a songwriter. His 2004 release with Billy Branch, Double Take, garnered Kenny a W.C. Handy award for Best Album.
This album opens with the uplifting title track that just instantly sets the delightful mood and groove. Joe Campbell and LeRoy Harper add horns behind Jimmy Adams piano all punctuated by Kenny’s mellow guitar picking.
Packing a little more punch from the horns, Neal lays down gritty guitar work on “Blues Leave Me Alone.” Frederick Neal adds the keys here.
Opening with Lucky Peterson on organ, the third track, the stirring ballad “You’ve Got To Hurt Before You Heal,” has a gospel sound. Kenny’s vocals resonate with an emotional feeling that convinces listeners the singer truly has lived, loved, lost, and healed.
Next, Kenny treats us to his learned harmonica as he recites some stereotypical nouns about his home state on the funky “Louisiana Stew.” “Starlight Diamond” also showcases his harmonica prowess on this easy-going 12 bar shuffle.
Displaying a social consciousness, “It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace,” has Latin-tinged grooves that drive the message. Robin Rogers and Shelly Magee add background vocals
Welcome back, Kenny, we missed you. Let Life Flow does more than announce Neal’s return, it soothes and inspires with a heartfelt sentiment born of the real-life, human struggles to which any listener can relate.
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL