From Dudley to the Delta

Lenny Sing WPA comedian walks into a recording studio; it’s not funny. Here, Sir Lenny Henry has produced a seriously good blues record.

Henry has always had a musical element to his stand up, from Jeff Beck playing on Lenny Live and Unleashed through to 2012’s Cradle to Rave – where he spoke solely about music.

Comedians, in a fact many performers, can dance and sing a little, so when Hugh Laurie recorded his first blues record, Let Them Talk, in 2011, it was of no surprise as Laurie is a blues aficionado, even if it did sound like House, singing the Blues, Greg not Son House.

Henry’s major currency is impressions, so loading up 12 tracks, including seven classic covers, and singing in a blues vein, old and modern, is like pouring sour mash over ice for the man from Dudley.

The only way to open a blues record is by complaining, so Henry name checks the ills he reads from the modern day newspaper or the ticker tape on 24 hour news.

“TV chefs on the front page, gun shots and road rage,” clearly giving the idea of the world’s spectrum of news from glitter to gutter; the reportage influences of Gil Scott Heron and Marvin Gaye are clear.

Blues standard “Hoochie Coochie Man”, written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954, comes on with Henry’s deep rumble, much like his Teddy Pendegrass homage character, Theophilus P. Wildebeest. But this isn’t for comic relief, his rendition has a seductive southern blues voice, full of libidinous voodoo. His deep, warm timbre a class act throughout.

The palette is wider than straight up blues; dirty dub bass lines where notes are sparsely scattered, “Who Is He (and What Is He To You?)”, a towering 70’s rock guitar lick, “The Stealer,” and an unfortunate scat vocal on the otherwise excellent, “Back Door Man.” The juxtaposition of piano, guitar and harmonica firmly places this record within the authenticity of blues, even if strangely produced by Jakko Jakszyk from King Crimson.

Henry tells a good story, like all fine bluesmen, whether it’s a down beat social commentary on the shooting of Brandon Moore on “The Cops Don’t Know,” or the more joyous trip he took with his daughter, visiting the Blues landmarks in the US, “If That’s Not Good Enough”, which rolls along like a slow mosey drive on an open highway.

Henry isn’t aiming to be placed up there with B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson or even Jack White and Eric Clapton as a Blues hero, but this is a great record of a guy indulging himself in his passion for music, especially the blues, its friends and the genres birthed from it.

Leave any snobbishness to one side, this record is a fun trip. Take a light-hearted listen. Henry wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cradle to Rave is reviewed here.

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