Willie Kent
Long Way to Ol' Miss
Delmark 696
Although he didn't cut his first record until 1989, bassman Willie Kent has been a veteran of the Chicago club scene since he moved there from his native Mississippi in the '50s. For four decades, this unsung hero has worked as a sideman for Little Walter, Muddy, Wolf and other luminaries too numerous to mention.

That kind of seasoning, along with confident vocals and solid bass playing, make Long Way to Ol' Miss a satisfying recording. With Kent as frontman and primary songwriter, it naturally follows that some of the strongest moments on the album are songs built around punchy bass riffs fleshed out by talented sidemen.

In true Chicago tradition, the majority of the tracks fall into the 12-bar shuffle groove, although Kent and company break up the pace in a few places by making innovative riffs the center of attention rather than traditional rhythms. "Ain't Got Long to Stay" takes on a late-'60s rock quality with the help of Kenny Barker's organ and Vernon "Chico" Banks' distorted guitar. "All My Life" bears plenty of personality, thanks to Banks' unpretentious but consistent soloing alongside Kent's solid bass and vocal work. "Don't Drive Me Away" gets a lot of mileage out of a simple, two-chord riff, augmented by some lush piano work by Ken Saydak.

Don't be fooled by the title: Long Way to Ol' Miss is very much a Chicago blues album. But Willie Kent's innovative bass work -- enhanced by some talented, creative sidemen -- sparks enough variety to keep this recording from being just another series of shuffles.

-- John C. Bruening

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Boulder, CO, USA.