Mikey Junior,
Travelin' South
(VizzTone/Swingnation, 2014)

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne,
Rollin' With the Blues Boss
(Stony Plain, 2014)

On his second Stony Plain album -- my review of the first appeared in this space on 27 August 2011 -- American-born, British Columbia-based Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne returns with his amiably good-natured piano blues and boogie woogie. Rollin' With the Blues Boss highlights 11 original songs and tunes, set in small-band arrangements, with or without horns, and produced by Tom Lavin.

Much of modern blues is suffused with thundering power chords, rendering it to some (including me) loud, heartless and all but unlistenable. By way of happy contrast, Kenneth Wayne Spruell, the Blues Boss' real name, is attuned to the black popular music of the mid-20th century, when mastery of one's chosen instrument was intended to serve the song, not the reverse, and there was nothing wrong with livening up the blues with wit and laughter.

Kenny Wayne is sensitive to the complaint that he is a mere revivalist -- in fact, it's the subject of one of the tunes here ("Keep on Rockin'") -- but I can't imagine that any sensible listener would worry about that one way or another. Yes, he works within a readily discernible tradition, but he operates as his own man within it. He's been playing it all of his life, and his claim to it is as valid as anybody's. He rocks, rolls, boogies, chortles and laments, and he'll catch you up in the spirit. It all feels of the moment, and a grand moment it is, but it also feels like the blues eternal.

Unlike Kenny Wayne, Mikey Junior (Michael DeGennaro) is white and generally pissed off. Like Wayne, he is something of a blues classicist, though from a different tradition; the template here is the hard-core Chicago blues of a few decades ago. No stale imitation, to be sure, but undeniably an extrapolation from sounds that to many of us define what the true country-born big-city blues is and always will be.

He doesn't sound like anybody in particular, but once in a while Howlin' Wolf may come to mind. Wolf was a harmonica player, as is Mikey Junior. Though few in blues history have managed to be as feral as Wolf was in performance, Mikey Junior favors his own kind of tough approach, even an occasionally downright sinister one (as in the outstandingly foul-tempered, deeply menacing "Mill Tavern"). The songs, his own compositions, are populated with desperate men and cheating women, and the stories don't let in much daylight.

Mikey Junior delivers those stories like a punch to the face, without once giving the impression that he really doesn't mean to knock some lowdown rounder's teeth out. In short, unless you happen to be that lowdown rounder, this is the good stuff.

music review by
Jerome Clark

12 July 2014

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