Neal still waiting for fame train to arrive
Kenny Neal has been the next big thing waiting to happen in the blues for, oh, about 10 years now. He's released a half-dozen albums on Alligator plus his debut on King Snake, starred on Broadway (in "Hambone" a few years back), and tours constantly.
Yet through all this he's yet to break into the mainstream, yet to score a crossover hit, yet to become the next Robert Cray.
The "why" to the above isn't clear; listening to the 16 tracks to Alligator Records' new anthology of Neal doesn't make his lack of commercial success any clearer.
While Neal's music is firmly in the blues, much more so than Cray's, it's every bit as listener-friendly, as radio-oriented, as hook-laden and accessible as anything Cray has done.
While many blues artists can be identified through a regional sound West Coast or Chicago, for instance Neal plays a brand of blues that's pure-bred American mutt. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., his sound is just as influenced by the Chicago school. It's electric, hard-charging music, with elements of rock and funk as well.
The charm and allure of Kenny Neal starts with his singing. Neal has a wonderful baritone voicee that's both comforting and comfortable. He can also snarl and growl with the best blues singers, and he knows when to use the effects for best effect.
Neal's also a pretty incredible instrumentalist. A former bassist for Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal grew up playing in his father Raful's band. That solid background shows in Neal's guitar and harmonica playing; not many folks are as good as he is on either instrument -- are there any who can play both as well as he?
Now, all that talent singing and playing wouldn't be worth much without some decent songs. Here again, his lack of star status confounds: Neal writes as well as he performs. Several of his songs are bonafide classics, or at least ought to be.
Who knows when or if Kenny Neal will finally get the fame and riches that ought to come his way; in the meantime, though, he's putting out some of the best blues on the scene.
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