Album Of The Week

July 6, 2020
 

Kicking It Up a Notch (or Two, or…)

Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne: Upping the energy quotient and setting an elevated standard of musicianship…

 

By David McGee

 

GO, JUST DO IT!

Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne

Stony Plain

 

Go, Just Do It! could not be better titled to capture the joie de vivre Piano Hall of Fame inductee Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and company deliver here, starting with the horn-goosed funk blast of “Just Do it” and culminating with a jump blues worthy of Louis Jordan. Wayne, now 75, never fails to up the energy quotient and set an elevated standard of musicianship for one and all, but he’s taken those qualities to a higher plane on this outing. Among the notables on board are three award winning vocalists, Blues Hall of Fame bassist (formerly with B.B. King) Russell Jackson, powerhouse horn players Jerry Cook (sax) and Vince Mai (trumpet), wailing harp master Sherman “Tank” Doucette (who dominates the lively shuffle treatment of JJ Cale’s “They Call Me the Breeze”), electrifying Boogie Patrol guitarist Yuji Ihara, drummer Joey “The Pocket” DiMarco and Barry Sharbo on tambourine. Generous spirit that he is, Wayne gives everyone a moment, or several, to shine even as he takes the spotlight to remind us in no uncertain terms why he’s credited with returning the piano to the fore in the blues band context.

‘You’re in For a Big Surprise,’ written by Percy Mayfield, performed by Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne and Diane Schurr, from Go, Just Do It!

‘Sorry Ain’t Good Enough,’ Kenny ‘Blues Boxx’ Wayne and Dawn Tayler Watson, from Go, Just Do It!

The Blues Boss and Diane Schurr, in a rousing performance that should inspire listeners to check out her own fine new album, Running on Faith, spice up a grinding take on Percy Mayfield’s scalding blues, “You’re In For a Big Surprise,” which follows closely in the wake of “Just Do It,” wherein Dawn Tyler Watson adds a sassy distaff voice to the proceedings. Similarly, Wayne, with Julie Masi fashioning silky female background responses, offers a spirited account of love’s tight grip on the heart in “You Did a Number on Me,” a driving tune enhanced by the Blues Boss’s frisky 88s and Ihara’s piercing lead guitar solo. In a moment drenched in noir, Watson returns for a tight, accusatory duet with Wayne on “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough,” a righteous calling out of a feckless paramour who avoids responsibility for personal failings by blaming everyone and everything else, couched in a relentless arrangement driven by dark, surging horns and the band’s collective march (you’ll understand why drummer DiMarco’s nickname is “Pocket” from this cut alone) behind the vocalists, setting the stage for Watson to take flight near the end with a heated rebuke you would not want to be on the receiving end of. The album’s only other guest vocal appears on another Percy Mayfield cover, “I Don’t Want To Be The President,” originally a Johnny “Guitar” Watson-produced 1974 Atlantic single (rumors persist that the singer is actually Ray Charles doing his impeccable Percy imitation). Released when the walls were closing in on Nixon and fueled by a percolating R&B arrangement long on jittery horns and a tasty, minimal blues guitar solo courtesy Mr. Watson, Mayfield performs a talking blues over the music, explaining his lack of enthusiasm for the top job owing to his concerns over a lack of privacy (making reference to tapes surfacing of conversations with his wife) and the energy shortage (“it’s cheaper eating money than food”), but avers, as the tune winds down, that he might run for mayor of his home town, before breaking into a conspiratorial, near-whispered laugh and adding, “I’m just playin’, your Highness; just jivin’.” Well, it shoulda been a hit, but it wasn’t, nor is it forgotten, thanks to the Blues Boss reviving it here in a most timely manner, with robust horns and percolating keys, taking the talking blues parts himself in his warm voice and adding a mid-song rap interlude by Wayne fils Corey Spruell (aka SeQuall, inserting a reminder of the importance of voting this year) and a revised ending in which Wayne suggests he would be open to a police or fire chief job instead. Or Governor. Or “Minister of Foreign Affairs.” Blues Boss in 2020!

‘Lost & Found,’ Kenny ‘Blues Boxx’ Wayne, from Go, Just Do It!

‘Let the Rock, Roll,’ Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne, from Go, Just Do It!

Elsewhere, Wayne’s new batch of original songs include a jittery ode to the good life, “Sittin’ In My Rockin’ Chair,” another occasion for Wayne to showcase his personable vocal style (echoes of Ray Charles) and nimble way with a piano solo; a soul-drenched workout on the aggrieved text of “Motor Mouth Woman”; and the easygoing groove titled “Lost & Found,” in which said groove disguises a down-and-out lyric (“I’ve been lost and mistreated/worn down and defeated/never gaining any ground/I’ve been lost in the Lost & Found…”) that Wayne delivers with resigned acceptance in an arrangement colored throughout by spiky synth punctuations and energized in its latter stages by Wayne’s rich organ hum and Sharbo’s anxious tambourine flourishes.

‘I Don’t Want To Be The President,’ written by Percy Mayfield, performed by Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne and Corey Spruell (aka SeQual), from Go, Just Do It!

The despair of “Lost & Found” is an anomaly here, though, as the other nine Wayne originals are replete with buoyant spirits and bracing high energy. Speaking of the latter, the final cut, “Let the Rock, Roll,” the aforementioned rip-roaring jump blues worthy of Louis Jordan, closes things out furiously with the highlight being Wayne’s extended, red-hot barrelhouse tour of the ivories. Maybe he should run for President…

In short, have you heard the news? There’s good rockin’ tonight!