Monday, February 07, 2011

Willie Kent's Real Deal Blues Missed

The late Willie Kent was one of the most respected bass players in blues as well as a formidable band-leader and vocalist. I first became aware of him when he was with the late singer-guitarist Willie James Lyons as well as Left Dizz and pianist Big Moose John Walker. They made some memorable recordings for the French Isabel label which to my knowledge has not been reissued. Too Hurt To Cry is still listed in Delmark’s catalog and should be easy to find. I likely received a review copy at the time from Delmark.

Willie Kent’s second outing for Delmark, Too Hurt To Cry, should win him some new fans. This album may be of interest to some for the presence of trumpeter Malachi Thompson, who leads a horn section on several of these recordings. Also, Billy Branch lends his harp voicings on several selections. Bassist-vocalist Kent handles all of the vocals on this album, unlike his earlier Delmark release that included vocalist Bonnie Lee. Kent is a very expressive, slightly gruff vocalist who tears into the lyrics.

While most of this album is comprised of originals, the highlight is a superb reworking of Buddy Guy’s A Man and the Blues, with Branch and the horns framing the rock steady playing of Kent’s band. Thompson’s arrangement of the horns is first class, and Branch’s playing shows why he is among the most in demand session players around. While Kent contributes most of the originals, Bob James wrote the Blues Train (with Johnny B. Moore guesting on guitar) for which “you don’t need no ticket, just some heartache”, and poet Sterling Plumpp contributed the slow blues 911, (“..I can’t dial 9-1-1 for no pain”).

Kent’s title track is a tough brooding blues which he particularly excels at, while his This Thing Called Love is a rocking shuffle with a riffing horn arrangement and more Johnny B. Moore guitar. The only mistake is Countdown- it sounds like the band’s closing number with Kent giving some of the rap he might give closing a set, thanking those playing on the recording. It doesn’t work on the disc. That aside, this is a first-rate set.

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