Kenny "Blue" Ray
Keep the Mojo Workin’
Tone King 1064

If you still aren’t hip to Kenny Blue Ray, do yourself a favor and get on board this man’s boogie train. Having just turned fifty, KBR has been on over forty blues albums and has been cranking out a minimum of two of his own per year for the last five years. Even at that incredible rate, he never disappoints, nor does he waste notes, your time, or his time. Most of this CD was done live, with a few overdubbed solos, and it was all wrapped up in just two sessions. One would expect no less from this no-nonsense West Coast blues warrior.

The title cut is an instrumental tribute to Anson Funderburgh, who Ray says is one of his favorite players — and people — on earth. "Unseen Eye," a late-’50s Sonny Boy Williamson classic, features Charlie Chavez on vocals and harp and Ray doing some sweet Robert Lockwood licks.

Ray takes to the Hammond B-3 on four of the instrumentals, including Albert Collins’ "Backstroke" and Ray’s own "Chula Juana Mama." He also plays B-3 (and uses a capo on the guitar track) on "Hush Puppies," his tribute to Jimmie Vaughan, and on the early-’60s B.B. King/Duke Jethro-style "Grits, Greens and Gravy."

As usual for Kenny, there just isn’t a clunker on this CD. Whether playing his originals or a cover you’ve heard countless times (such as Little Walter’s "Mean Old World"), Ray lays down the law and proves once again that he’s got the corner on the tone market. At least part of that tone can be attributed to his new batch of custom, made-from-scratch Blueray Signature guitars. These guitars have the ’50s and ’60s-looking design of both Strats and Telecasters and have a distinctive West Coast, Texas or Chicago blues sound to them — depending which one Kenny uses and what he decides he wants to do with it.

Eddie Taylor’s immortal 1955 hit "Bad Boy" is here, as well as Jimmy Reed’s laconic shuffle, "You Don’t Have to Go." You also get a great tribute to KBR’s late great boss, William Clarke (Ray’s first record appearance was on Clarke’s 1978 Hittin’ Heavy). "Blues for Bill" features Stan Powell on chromatic harp, and it’s close enough to Clarke’s West Coast blowin’ to bring a tear to the eye.

Ray plays a Resonator guitar and pairs with Chavez on vocals and harp to do the Broomduster riff all over again on the Elmore James classic, "I Believe." Your blues collection will thank you for adding this notch to its belt — you simply can’t go wrong with Kenny "Blue" Ray. He is the genuine article.

— Ann Wickstrom

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA