Kenny Neal,
Let Life Flow
(Blind Pig, 2008)

You can't say that Kenny Neal doesn't know what he's up to. When he was 3, his father's friend, master bluesman Slim Harpo, gave him a harmonica to stop him from crying. Evidently, it worked because by the time he was 13, Neal was playing in his father's band. Later, he and his brothers migrated to Canada and formed a band that won acclaim on its own and backed up every visiting blues artist. After becoming successful there, he returned to his native Baton Rouge to build his solo career, which he did successfully; he's got a slue of CDs out and has won major honors.

In Let Life Flow, we see why. Fronting a band that includes his son and a couple of his brothers, as well as a horn section, he creates a music that takes the blues a step or two into the future, blending Louisiana swamp rock, old-time soul and electric blues into a gumbo that goes down easily and tastefully and leaves you wanting more.

This is good stuff. Neal's guitar attack is slashing, filled with confidence and flair but not obtrusive; it never gets in the way of the song the way the work of some guitar slingers does. Instead, it enhances, propelling the song forward. In "Louisiana Stew," he brings his harmonica forward to give the song a sort of Tony Joe White kick while "Starlight Diamond" brings the old guys like Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed to mind. Yet even as his influences show and even as he pays tribute to his mentors, Neal is always himself, always propelling the music forward rather than living in its past.

Let Life Flow isn't a perfect album. The '70s-influenced "Another Man's Cologne" can't quite get past its time period, for example, but on the whole, this is an album that's going to spend a lot of time in your player.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

24 January 2009

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