Kenny Neal

REVIEW: Kenny Neal “Straight From the Heart”


Kenny Neal – Straight From The Heart

Louisiana’s Baton Rouge always effectively indulges its blues with a swampy, humid distillation. Melodies have a New Orleans slant or Bayou flavor. Blues artist Kenny Neal’s showcase is adept, spicy & finely tuned.

Neal (vocals/lead & rhythm guitar/harmonica/horn arrangements) has a somewhat B.B. King approach in tone & effectively mixes Dr. John hoodoo & Allan Toussaint charts with the horn gumbo of The Meters. A melodic jambalaya.

Kenny Neal

The Grammy-nominated Neal purposely turns back the clock on the 11-cut, 47-minute Straight From The Heart (Drops May 20–Ruf Records) to recapture a purer blues with Zydeco spice & soul authenticity. His guitar & raw vocals provide the rest. Awards & accolades aside many blues musicians have exhumed the ghost of the blues for both exploitation & histrionics. Johnny Winter, Shuggie Otis, Mike Bloomfield, Roy Buchanan, Buddy Guy, John Campbell, Jeff Healey – all exceptionally well.

What I find impressive is Neal’s voice. It has an old-school deep tone & resonance required of the blues. Words reflect hard times, heartbreak & the motherlode of the downtrodden. Some of Neal’s blues while played well brazenly approach — too close, mainstream commercial sweetness. He sings about interesting subjects but instead of adding a wax gloss to his performance, some are slick & polished. The vital elements are there, but the “entertainment” sheen dilutes the taste. Blues is folk music – not a show tune.

The Zydeco numbers are memorable. A little less jaunty & resplendent of the more Cajun & Creole zydeco of Buckwheat Zydeco & Clifton Chenier. But “Louise Ana,” with Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twister is a slow sizzler of dynamic performance. Kenny covers a lot & nothing lacks sincerity.

Despite being true to his roots he flirts with that commercial appeal. But maybe it sells records. “It Don’t Cost Nothing,” is a cool groove. Years from the edgier Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Junior Parker, or Buddy Guy. A good blues, its saving grace — Neal’s John Lee Hooker-type reading. That’s worth another glass of Old Crow.

There’s nothing deeply compelling as John Campbell’s “Tiny Coffin,” BB’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” or even the intensity of John Martyn’s “Hurt In Your Heart.”

“It’s Been So Long,” & “Someone Somewhere,” are both good but the latter needs a pinch more soul. Conjure Otis Redding, Percy Sledge — increase its value. Produced by Neal the LP never loses momentum. It’s a big, tasty blues ice cream cone – but in 2022 add more sprinkles for the kids.

Players are — Darnell Neal & Terrell Griffin, Lee Allen (bass), Arnet Hayes, Darrell Jefferson & Orlando Henry (piano), Jason Parfait (sax), Ian Smith (trumpet), Big Nate Williams & Dwayne Dopsie, Anthony Dopsie (accordion), & Rockin Dopsie Jr (washboard), Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (vocals/lead guitar), Brandon Adams (Hammond B3/keyboards/piano/horn arrangements), Michael Harris, Kevin Menard & Bryan Morris (drums), Sharisse Norman & Shontelle Norman-Beatty (bgv vocals), Tito Jackson & Syreeta Neal (vocals).

Photo by Laura Carbone. CD @

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