I once wrote: “Is there anyone happier playing the blues than Kenny Neal?”
If you read the recent Blues Revue cover story, you know that life has dealt a tough hand to Neal these past three years. Yet he has taken what life has dealt, and risen above it.
As an artist, Neal has always found his music a place of refuge in turbulent times. Loss of family and near loss of self could destroy anyone, but amid lifeís inequities, Neal found personal healing in the words he writes, and the notes he plays. Backed by an all-star band of family Ė including brothers Darnell and Frederick from his touring band, and son Kenny, Jr. handling the drum programming on six tunes Ė along with friends such as Lucky Peterson and a combination of horns and voices, Neal is the modern phoenix rising from personal tragedy.
After all the years of asking “Why me?” one must come to acknowledge and accept to be released.
“Youíve Got to Hurt Before You Heal” is Nealís core realization of getting through tragedy day by day. As Peterson doubles on church-like organ and Gospel piano, Neal and his son have programmed a heavenly string section to bolster the message of how hurt can ultimately heal. Once healed, Nealís title cut makes perfect sense about how to live in these unpredictable times. Itís Nealís modern optimistic take on the old adage, “Thereís always sunshine after rain.”
Follow that sentiment with “Blues, Leave Me Alone,” and the opening three tunes offer important advice to anyone who is the throes of personal darkness from one who has experienced his share of adversity
From there, Neal and his family take us down home to momís kitchen with the swamp rocker, “Louisiana Stew.” Here, Neal pulls a harp out of his pocket and shows off the Southern harp style he learned from his late father, Raful. There is always a wonderful symmetry to Nealís band - sons playing the music learned from the father. That symmetry runs throughout as Nealís own son completes the circle. Nealís take on his fatherís two songs, “Bleeding Heart” which comes from that side of the soul blues street, and “Starlight Diamond,” on which Neal handles guitar, bass, and harp, only deepens that family connection.
At his live shows, Neal usually treats the crowd to “Since I Met You Baby.” Here, Petersonís ornate piano and choir-like organ back Nealís touching vocals and guitar. Father and son program strings again on Nealís “Fly Away,” a poignant requiem written for those Neal has lost.
Neal ends the record with Willie Dixonís “It Donít Make Sense You Canít Make Peace,” a timely appeal about global inequities.
Kenny Neal is solid proof that music heals the human soul.