One of the pleasures I had at the Pocono Blues Festival this past summer was to hear Harrison Kennedy. Kennedy, one of the group, The Chairmen of the Board which had several hit recordings, has turned to acoustic blues in the past few years and his most recent disc “One Dog Barkin’,” (Electro-Fi), should hopefully spread the news about his musical alchemy. Kennedy plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin and percussion assisted by keyboards and bass that help provide the foundation for this recording, without detracting from the focus of his playing and vocals. He is an adept instrumentalist and an outstanding vocalist who often is riveting.
The originals on “One Dog Barkin’,” range from the title track, a strong downhome performance a topical lyric about the environmental crisis (a theme touched in other songs like “The 90s Blues,” or the soul-tinged “Leading Lady,” with his banjo embellished by the dreamy keyboard backing, as he sings about his lady being a shining star in his universe. “Cruise Control,” singing about the long drive to New Brunswick and with cruise control can travel those country roads as his banjo accompaniment accompanies a field holler-like vocal. “Could Be You, Could Be Me,” is a blues about being homeless with hard rock for a pillow, and nice sky only blanket while sleeping on a cardboard bed as he encourages sighting to help the homeless with effective guitar and harmonica backing. With some rollicking piano in the background, Harrison sings in “Hair of the Dog,” about losing his woman and best friend too and going downtown to drink away these blues which is followed by some nice slide playing and harmonica on “Ode to Huddie,” a moving song about Leadbelly intermixing biographical facts with song titles and lyrical fragments by the legendary songster. “Hogtown Blues” is a delta-styled blues as his phone rings and his baby has called saying she is in Hogtown and found a new ride with Kennedy singing and moaning his vocal with hints of “Rollin’ & Tumblin,’” in the backing. It is tracks like this that should how rooted in tradition and yet contemporary Kennedy gets. Sounding like some delta bluesman of the 30s and 40s he convinces us elsewhere of “The Healing Power of the Blues,” recounting some of his travels as he helps souls needing healing from the hurt within, while his accompaniment on “Cry For Mother Africa,” suggests some of the groits from Africa that have recorded in recent years, with Kennedy’s insistent, repetitive accompaniment matching his ethereal falsetto.
The vigor of the performances on this album match the freshness in which Kennedy uses traditional blues materials to craft these impressive, contemporary acoustic blues performances, making for a superb album that is highly recommended.
This review originally appeared in substantially the same form in Jazz & Blues Report issue 322 (December 2009-january 15 2010) which can be downloaded at www.jazz-blues.com. For FTC regulation purposes, I received review copy of this CD from Electro-Fi records.