With his health issues apparently (and thankfully) behind him, Kenny Neal has a new Blind Pig release, “Hooked On Your Love,” that is certain to please his existing fans and garner him some new ones. The twelve performances find him with his brothers and friends like Vasti Jackson and Lucky Peterson as Kenny’s immediate recognizable vocals and guitar brings warmth and good times to the listener. Easy swinging grooves are mixed with his own laconic approach that goes down like a smooth scotch.
Neal’s restrained approach that works with the opening title cut that celebrates of his love and the philosophical “Bitter With the Sweet,” when he sings about life not always champagne and rose, have to take the bitter with the sweet.” “Down in the Swamp,” reminds me of some of Tony joe White’s numbers as Kenny sings about being the bayou where the alligators play and plays some nice harmonica (oddly uncredited in the personnel listing. For some reason, Kenny is credited with composing the old OV Wright classic “Blind, Crippled & Crazy,” and obviously Kenny can’t match Wight’s gospel rooted soul shouting, but he does deliver a nicely paced performance with effective use here, as elsewhere on this, of backing vocals. Also the solo here is a fine example of how marvelous paced Kenny is as a player. Just like his vocals, he never rushes the notes. Its followed by another cover, this time of Little Milton’s hit “If Walls Could Talk,” an ironic lyric that Kenny ably handles.
“Things Gotta Change” is a soulful ballad with a message about a baby not having shoes on her feet, got to pray for a helping hand, and the need love one another but the backing may be a bit too smooth. The backing provided on William Bell’s “New Lease on Life,” is more emphatic which suits Kenny’s vocal here. Kenny’s rendition of “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” isn’t far removed from Bobby Bland’s original recording and Kenny’s can’t emulate Bland’s leaps and cries, but he conveys a suitable legacy. “Old Friends” is a nice swamp-pop number with lazy harp and a country-ish feel, while horns and a second-line groove provide “Voodoo Mama,” with a livelier flavor as Kenny plays some nice slide (I presume on lap steel guitar).
The CD closes on a nice shuffle “You Don’t Love Me,” where Kenny plays guitar and harmonica as he tells his baby to get on her merry way. Its a solid way to conclude this very solid collection of performances that touches a variety of musical bases but always showcasing Kenny Neal’s distinctive style of blues.
The review copy was provided by Blind Pig Records