Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kenny Neal's Loving Tribute To Slim Harpo and His Father, Raful

Kenny Neal is among the most impressive of contemporary blues artists. Son of Baton Rouge legend Raful, he has been a progressive torch bearer of that city’s blues tradition and impresses by his uncrushed, at times lazy sounding musical style. Back in 2006 I purchased his tribute to Slim Harpo and his father. This has become a collector's item, but is available as downloads for those who can't afford what folks are asking for the actual CD.

The following review was the result of listening to him and appeared in the November 2005 Dc Blues Calendar, newsletter of the DC Blues Society. The review also appeared in the May/June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 282). I have made some minor stylistic changes.

Kenny Neal at Surf Club Live, Hyattsville MD.  August 2010- Photo © Ron Weinstock
One of the most versatile as well as skilled blues artists working today, Kenny Neal has just issued a new disc that goes to the roots of his music, A Tribute to Slim Harpo & Raful Neal (True Light Entertainment). Originally this was a Slim Harpo tribute by him and his father, the late Raful Neal. They recruited James Johnson and Rudolph Richard from Slim Harpo’s original band to participate in this. Ten Slim Harpo songs were recorded when Kenny went on tour and in the interim Raful was diagnosed with bone cancer so Kenny was among those looking after his dad who passed away September 1, 2004. Going back to the tapes he listened to the tapes and decided to release what was initially a tribute to Slim Harpo also as a tribute to his dad.

Kenny shares the vocals with his father, with the exception of What a Dream on which James Johnson sings while the band captures the understated, laconic grooves that made Harpo’s originals so classic. Raful opens the set with a nice vocal and some harp on Rainin’ in My Heart, while Kenny and Raful swap harp riffs on Swamp Boogie. Raful comes across very appealingly on King Bee, Scratch My Back and Got Love If You Want It, while the two share the vocals on Late Last Nite, with Kenny taking the vocal prior to the harp break which is followed by Raful singing and closing the song with his nicely played harp, and Te-Ni-Ne-Ni-Nu where Raful takes the lead with Kenny joining in on the chorus.

Its nice to hear this played in such a nice relaxed manner, lacking the frenzy or overstatement that mars some rock interpretations of this material. Kenny Neal and his late dad have put together a small gem of a disc, and if playing time is a little short, there is no frills or filler here. Highly recommended.

Here is Kenny Neal and Lil Ray Neal doing Scratch My Back.

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