Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne,
An Old Rock on a Roll
(Stony Plain, 2011)

Think Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Roosevelt Sykes and Champion Jack Dupree, and then add Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, a living master in the tradition of blues and boogie-woogie piano. On a scene dominated by very loud electric lead guitars in the hands of white men (and now some women) with roots in 1960s rock, Wayne reminds us of another approach, one so rarely heard today that exposure to it is not only a pleasant memory jog but something of a psychic shock.

Produced by veteran blues performer and producer Duke Robillard, An Old Rock on a Roll requires no advanced musical degree to appreciate. It's forthright and accessible. The songs, all Wayne originals (under his real-life name Kenneth Wayne Spruell), are uniformly strong, delving mostly into familiar r&b themes, basically lovin' or steppin' out. One exception is the hard-driving "Run, Little Joe" -- my favorite cut -- which revisits the kind of bad-man story one associates with early rural blues ballads, even though the musical setting is different and modern.

At other times Wayne conjures up something of a night-club silkiness, most notably in "Wild Turkey 101 Proof," which one can easily hear Nat King Cole doing. It's a splendid song -- a pledge to temperance, at least of a sort -- and a persuasively sincere performance. On a number of cuts, a rockin' four-horn section grunts, swings and punctuates behind the piano and vocals, Robillard's guitar, Brad Halle's bass, and Mark Teixeira's percussion.

One has no trouble believing that Wayne accomplishes all of this smashingly in live performance. The wonder is that this recording, a studio production, captures such immediacy, warmth and vitality. All involved in this project must have been having a high old time, and because they did, so will you.

music review by
Jerome Clark

27 August 2011

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