The Sound Cafe
Baton Rouge Bluesman Kenny Neal Drops New Album Feat. Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram & Tito Jackson
By Pati deVries.
Down in Louisiana, they do things differently. The Southern state's musical giants have always had their special recipe for American roots: spiced with jazz, steeped in swamp blues, and cooked up a little differently by every artist who performs it. As a second-generation child of the Bayou State, Kenny Neal has taken his inimitable guitar, gale-force harp, and roadworn voice all over the globe.
In 2022, the Grammy-nominated blues master recorded his latest album, Straight From The Heart, "This is the first album I've ever recorded on my turf, and it truly came straight from the heart," says Neal. The latter led and produced a crack team of local musicians at his own Brookstown Recording Studios. "All the tributaries of the blues converge here, flowing into one rich tradition." before recorded on home turf. The recording studio was in Baton Rouge, and Boo Mitchell mixed the album at Royal Studios in Memphis.
For his 17th album, Straight From the Heart (Ruf Records), Neal found himself in the studio alongside his Baton Rouge compadrés along with special guests, Grammy Award-winning blues sensation Christone' Kingfish' Ingram (who co-writes and plays stinger guitar on "Mount Up On The Wings Of The King"), pop royalty Tito Jackson (on "Two Timing"), and two songs with Rockin' Dopsie Junior & The Zydeco Twisters. You'll even hear Neal's supremely talented daughter Syreeta drive the vocal outro of "Two-Timing."
Straight from the Heart acknowledges the past, present & future of the blues. And Kenny Neal's songs and performance find him presently a leader in the genre.
Born in New Orleans on October 14, 1957, Neal quickly found early inspiration in his father, the harp master Raful Neal, who blew a gale and moved in the same orbit as Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo.
At 13, Neal Jr was wowing the crowds in his father's band; four years later, he played bass with Buddy Guy. His fabled period working with his siblings in the Neal Brothers Blues Band is still spoken of in reverential tones on the Toronto circuit whose roofs they blew off.
Neal's sizzling guitar work, sturdy harp, and gravelly, aged-beyond-his-years vocals served him well, and he cut four albums for Alligator Records between 1989 and 1994. An acclaimed 1991 stint on Broadway in a production of Mule Bone found him performing acoustic versions of Langston Hughes' poetry set to music by Taj Mahal. Kenny's 2016 release, Bloodline, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and won two BMAs (Blues Music Awards); one for Best Contemporary Blues Album and the other for Best Contemporary Male Blues Artist. From Neal's W.C. Handy Blues Award of 2005 to his 2011 induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, few contemporary artists are more decorated.