Friday, September 25, 2009

Kenny NEAL and Billy BRANCH - Double Take 2004

Kenny NEAL & Billy BRANCH - Double Take 2004
Label: Alligator


This no-frills Alligator reissue of 2003's Easy Meeting (recorded in France, 1998), allows a wider audience to hear this exceptional recording, which might have been all but impossible to find on its previous indie label. Louisiana swamp guitarist/vocalist Neal is well known through his nine discs on Alligator and Telarc, but harp player Branch is a more obscure, yet tremendously talented bluesman who blues fans may recognize from his inclusion on Alligator's 1991 Harp Attack. Branch ended up a little lost on that project since he had to share the spotlight with James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Junior Wells, but here, even working with Neal, he shines. This is a low-key but charming, predominantly acoustic project, split fairly evenly between classics, new tunes, and obscurities. Neal has the better voice, and sings seven of the 12 tracks, but Branch does a fine job on his five tunes, even between verses where he's playing harp. There aren't many — if any — overdubs, and the session is as loose and down-home as you'd expect from two seasoned musicians. Branch blows strong, electrified harmonica only slightly less cutting and explosive than Little Walter (two of whose hits "My Babe" and "I Just Keep Loving Her" are here), and is particularly impressive on the slow blues of his original "Northern Man Blues," where he switches from amplified to unplugged settings. Neal revisits "The Son I Never Knew," from his 1989 Devil Child release — twice actually — and the song in both of its versions (the second features Branch on amplified harp) is an album highlight. Other than a cover of "Mannish Boy" that, at nearly eight minutes, should have been pruned to four, the duo keeps the songs and performances concise, but still lazy and swampy. In fact, it sounds like the musicians were lounging on their porch on a sweltering summer's night. This is a relaxed, casual but moving album that goes down easy and doesn't try to be more than what it is, which is what ultimately makes it so successful.
By Hal Horowitz.
This recording is a blues, acoustic tapestry weaving guitar, harmonica and vocals into magnificent work of art. But unlike the art found in a stuffy old museum, this is down home and very comfortable. It fits like your favorite pair of jeans. It was recorded in France in 1998, mastered in October of 2002, and was previously released in Europe on Isabel Records as Easy Meeting. It is a collection of classic covers paying tribute to the blues masters and some very tasty originals that are the fruits of years of paying dues. The CD opens with a version of St. Louis Jimmy’s “Going Down Slow” that jumps right up in your face and gets your toes tappin’. This disc includes two versions of “A Son I Never Knew” which is haunting tale of a father’s lament for the child he did not know. The texture of this song hangs in your mind with the sounds and feelings that only a father knows. There a couple of Little Walter classics, “I Just Keep Loving Her” and “My Babe”, that add new life and energy to these well-worn blues standards. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking” and Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” are revisited with new vim and vigor featuring the vocals and harmonica of Billy Branch. Kenny Neal’s “Early One Morning” and “Going to the Country” are originals that stand on their own as contemporary blues standards. They have the sound of the past combined with the freshness of today. The original instrumental “Billy and Kenny’s Stomp” provides an avenue for both artists to stretch their collective musical wings. It is safe to say there is not a bad song on this disc.
Kenny Neal and Billy Branch are veteran blues performers who have worked hard to establish themselves in the world of the blues. Kenny Neal is a triple threat bluesman whose guitar, harmonica and vocals make him a stand-out in the world of the blues. Billy Branch is one of the best blues harmonica players in the world. His vocals are powerful expressions of the blues stories being told. Together, Kenny and Billy, deliver a CD that will stand the test of time. Go get the disc and invite Kenny Neal and Billy to spend some time in your living room. I’m sure you will have them visit you many times.
By Rich Gordon.
Billy Branch- Harmonica, Vocals
Kenny Neal- Guitar, Vocals
01. Going Down Slow  3:59
02. The Son I Never Knew [Take 2]  6:03
03. I Just Keep Loving Her  3:04
04. My Babe  3:16
05. Early One Morning  4:09
06. Going to the Country  3:29
07. Don't Start Me to Talking  4:31
08. Mannish Boy  7:48
09. Billy and Kenny's Stomp  4:45
10. Baby Bee  4:25
11. Northern Man Blues  6:44
12. Son I Never Knew [Take 1]  5:56

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