Monday, September 19, 2011

An Old Rock on a Roll reviewed by Mark Thompson

An Old Rock on a Roll
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Stony Plain Records
13 tracks/53:59

The title of this disc alludes to the age of the “Blues Boss”, but you'll have a hard time believing that Kenny Wayne is 67 years old after you hear this outstanding recording. Playing with the energy and enthusiasm of a younger man, Wayne romps through a bakers-dozen of original tunes that showcase his strength as a songwriter and his boogie style of piano playing. He has an engaging style of singing that conjures up memories of Charles Brown and Amos Milburn.
His backing band is lead by ace guitarist Duke Robillard, who also produced the project. The rest of the musicians are drawn primarily from the alumni list of Roomful of Blues – Mark Teixeira on drums, Doug James on baritone sax, Sax Gordon Beadle on tenor sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Carl Querfurth on trombone and Brad Halle on bass. In addition to piano, Wayne adds some organ on several cuts.

The jaunty rhythm on “Searching For My Baby” makes it an easy choice for the opening track with Robillard's guitar offering strong support for Wayne's spirited piano solo. With the horns and organ filling in the space behind him, Wayne describes his attempts to deal with life's travails on “Fantasy Meets Reality”. Robillard's guitar dominates the arrangement on “Devil Woman”, his penetrating licks contrasting nicely with Wayne's laid-back vocal. “Wild Turkey 101 Proof” is a good-natured drinking tune with Wayne and Robillard sharing the solo space.
Other highlights include the title cut, with Wayne offering a summary of his view of life and career - and “Don't Pretend”, a slow blues that gives Wayne ample space to show off his tremendous skills on piano. The relentless drive of “Heaven, Send Me An Angel” underscores the songwriter's plea for relief from an alcohol-fueled rage over the miseries of this world. “Bring Back the Love”is a ballad with the horns cushioning the leader's tender vocal. The band harks back to the days of house rent parties on “Rocking Boogie Party”, with Wayne laying down plenty of dazzling piano runs.

The band slips into a gospel vein on the instrumental closing number, “Give Thanks”. Wayne pounds away on the piano and adds swirling chords on the organ while Robillard picks out more tasty licks.

It is a fitting close, showing the depth of Wayne's musical experiences. There are some who have lamented the future of blues piano due to the recent passing of Pinetop Perkins. Not to worry – the tradition is safe in the capable hands of the Blues Boss. This one is a contender for best Blues recording of the year and should not be missed.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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