Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne: Let It Loose

[30 May 2005]

By Robert R. Calder

The man has done his homework, presumably some of it in his hometown of New Orleans, and found out that there’s plenty music of sorts which were recorded in the 1940s and indeed ought still to be played. And learned to play them.

Quite why the notes mention New Orleans and Pete Johnson, and then refer separately to Kansas City (Pete Johnson’s home!), I wouldn’t know. The starter “Blackberry Wine” might be a tilt at “Blueberry Hill”, but it’s more on the lines of “Down the Road Apiece”, with knocked out boogie piano and Brandon Isaak taking a guitar break. By contrast, on “Joogie to the Boogie” Wayne sounds like one of the jazz swing pianists Louis Jordan employed; this is a Louis Jordan type of jump number with shuffle beat and very nice alto saxophone from Pat Carey. There is however a break of more blues-band playing.

On “Wishing Well” Clifford Dunn replaces the elsewhere commendable Isaak and Wayne plays organ. The genre of this number is more like soul, whereas the next title is boogie blues of a 1960s Chicago sort—although there is a bit of Fats Domino in Wayne’s voice. Brandon Isaak is a splendid blues guitarist. “Blue and Lonesome” has more a Kansas City feel, Wayne as simultaneously Jimmy Witherspoon successor and Pete Johnson. This is excellent of its kind. On Shifty Henry’s “Let Me Go Home, Whiskey” the feel is of a general sort of R&B number sung in chorus and played congenially by a bluesman. Willie Dixon did things like this, but there’s Kansas City in Wayne’s piano part. I would have liked to hear a lot more of his piano playing, but maybe that’s already recorded elsewhere. I wouldn’t mind hearing rather more of the 1940s piano players who are somewhere behind Wayne’s music, not the ultimate in blues but lively and inventive.

Steve Hilliam’s R&B tenor joins in for what is the title track, a sort of band transcription of a boogie woogie solo, Wayne singing and a couple of band members doing the vocal backing group business. This could also be called rock ‘n’ roll, and Hilliam does get a decent workout. Russell Jackson plays neat slap bass.

The wind department changes for “Mean Streak”, Dave Hoerl playing harmonica. Something of this number echoes Robert Johnson’s “mean things on my mind”, and Hoerl gets a chance to solo, likewise Wayne himself.

“Bewildered” is a sort of ballad Ray Charles took up, and another non-bluesman, Fats Waller, might have sent up. Awooooooo! Schmaltz.

“Be a Man” is the title of the next number rather than a masculine rejoinder, sounding like a Nashville sort of blues—though like all but two here a Wayne composition—commandeered by a blues band. Dave Hoerl shows study of and mastery of the idiom of the two harmonica masters known separately as Sonny Boy Williamson.

“Lies” is organ and tenor band R&B, but the piano kicks in at the start of “Don’t Rush to Judge Me” and it’s the sort of music which resulted when the harmonic modernisation of B.B. King and Buddy Guy combined with Otis Spann in the Muddy Waters band of the late 1960s.

Paradoxically the closer, entitled “Blues, Carry Me Home”, simply ain’t blues but a sort of secularised gospel music with group vocal. Wayne certainly is not kidding when he sings “my history means so much to me”, but on this nice enough final track he’s not singing blues but singing to “blues”. A serenade to blues?

A more thorough review than there is time or space for here would compare the blues content of the present set with that of Wayne’s others. That would be a nice job.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/waynekenny-letit/