I can't help but think of Pinetop Perkins when I listen to Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, not because of their shared instrument of choice – piano – or because Wayne's style reminds me of the way Perkins played but because of both played and toured extensively before getting much in the way of recording opportunities.
Like many before him, Wayne takes advantage of Stony Plain Records' not-so-secret weapon on An Old Rock On A Roll. Duke Robillard has recorded most of his most memorable albums for the Canadian label and he's also acted as a talent scout and producer. He and members of his band back Wayne on this excellent set and their presence is a real asset, making An Old Rock On A Roll more of an ensemble project than pure solo album.
Wayne's piano style is heavily influenced by the boogie-woogie stylings of Fats Domino and others from that school rather than heavier poundings of Otis Spann, Perkins, or Jerry Lee Lewis. Wayne is more of a stylist than a flashy soloist and the same is true of his vocals. He is an appealing singer who doesn't overpower with theatrics or grit but instead seems to sing most everything with a smile. That appeal and these tunes seem aimed to get people dancing, mining the strange, beautiful contradiction wherein the blues makes you happy, not sad.
"Searching For My Baby" has a little grit to rough up the polished swing while "Don't Pretend" takes on an old-fashioned, smoke-filled nightclub vibe, buoyed by Robillard's jazzy touch on guitar. Those jazzy sways on guitar back Wayne's stylish fills and then Robillard steps out front for a classy solo. If "Searching" swings, "Fantasy Meets Reality" is a sprint, galloping with energy and great horn accents.
On An Old Rock On A Roll, Wayne presides over a stylish record with good tunes that have strong hooks and some seriously great playing from a group of veteran performers he has clearly clicked with. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks and maybe that's true but Wayne makes the old tricks sound new and vital.