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August 2008

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Kenny Neal
Let Life Flow
Blind Pig Records

Kenny Neal

I was at one of Kenny Neal’s last performances at Humphrey’s in San Diego before he took time off the road to deal with some personal health issues, and I’ve missed my friend. Very few artists have touched my ears and my heart with the kind of soulfulness that Kenny has, and I’m glad to be sitting here now, listening to his new release on Blind Pig Records, Let Life Flow.

The familiar sounds of Kenny’s guitar provide the intro for the title track, “Let Life Flow.” “Just when you think…you’ve got it all figured out…here comes something…you’d never dreamed about…that’s the way it is.” Life is going to present its challenges and how you deal with them determines the path you’re going to follow. And sometimes, when it gets tough…”you got to let life flow.” Sage advice from a man who’s gone through some of those very tough times. The next cut, “Blues, Leave Me Alone,” finds Kenny still defiant. “I think you ought to go back…to your troubling home…Blues…Blues…Blues… Leave Me Alone!” “I went to a party…just to have a little fun…a fight broke out…I had to run…Blues, Leave Me Alone!”

Lucky Peterson’s keyboard work on the organ provides a soulful backdrop on our next track, “You’ve Got to Hurt Before You Heal.” Kenny’s experienced his share of pain over the last three years losing his father, Raful Neal, a sister (Jackie), a brother (Ronnie) and his past drummer, Kennard Johnson. His faith has carried him through to today and he knows better than anyone, “You’ve got to hurt before you heal.” Within his lyrics you come to Kenny as a man of great faith, one who has persevered and is very much appreciative of where he’s at in his life today.

Kenny’s other great musical love, the harmonica, proudly wails the intro to “Louisiana Stew,” a tribute to Kenny’s home state. “Alligator’s chilling…crawfish, too…catfish swimming…in the Louisiana Stew!” “You got a lot of Cajuns…you got Zydeco…if that ain’t enough…we’ll give you Satchmo, too!” “Starlight Diamond” continues to feature Kenny on the harmonica and a slow back beat brings his vocal to the forefront as he tells us about the one he loves. “Living my life today…makes my heart fill with joy…since the day I said I do…till the last day of my bones…you’re my starlight diamond…heaven must have sent you from above!”

Kenny’s brilliant guitar work brings a sense of urgency to our next track, “Another Man’s Cologne.” “Girl, I love you…you know its true…I show you everyday…by the things I do…we’ve got problems that’s getting out of hand…you’ve been giving what’s mine…to another man…you came home…smelling like a man’s cologne!” The evidence proves she’s been unfaithful and some hard decisions will have to be made. Horns fill the background and surround Kenny’s fretwork as he contemplates the blues he’s feeling in “Broken Dreams.” “Where do I go…with these broken dreams…I’m looking down…at tears into a stream!” “You know I cry…but not today…I’ve watched our love, babe…fade away…where do I go…with these broken dreams?” Lucky Peterson’s back at the keyboards, this time a piano, as Kenny sings about his “Bleeding Heart.” “My poor heart’s crying…I’m a worried man…if you don’t come back…going to drive me insane…baby I’m blue…blue over you!”

Next up is Kenny’s version of the Ivory Joe Hunter classic, “Since I Met You Baby.” “My whole life has changed…since I met you baby…my whole life has changed…my friend’s all tell me…that I’m not the same!” Kenny had just recent gotten engaged when we were in Memphis for the 2005 W.C. Handy awards, and knowing Kenny, his selection of this song for the record was heavily influenced by the love he has for his new wife. He couldn’t have made a better choice, both musically and personally! “Fly Away” is a song Kenny wrote to honor the memory of the family members and drummer he’s lost. “Well, this world that we live in…is not ours for always…to prepare for eternity…we’ve got to pray…cause one day will come…we’ve got to fly away!” Our time on this earth is precious and Kenny’s message is that we’ve got to honor our time here on earth before it’s out turn to “fly away!”

Kenny closes out the record with the thought provoking “It Don’t Make Sense…You Can’t Make Peace.” “Make a deaf man hear…and a dumb man speak…it don’t make sense…you can’t make peace!” With all of the technological advancements we’ve developed to improve the human condition, we still as a society can’t always find a way to live in harmony. “It don’t make sense….you can’t make peace!”

We’ve gone too long without Kenny’s presence in the Blues world and his new record, Let Life Flow, offers to us all a message of peace and understanding. Full of hope, full of promise, Let Life Flow reflects Kenny’s comfort in his own skin and his newfound commitment to enjoy life and all that it brings to him. The rest of us would do well to follow his example.

--- Kyle Deibler


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