Don't look to Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne for low-down lonesome blues. There's trouble and hardship, to be sure, but Wayne, a sprightly and optimistic veteran who's been at it since the early 1960's , is too much the happy-go-lucky guy to stay down for long.
Wayne also isn't given to tired retreads of the classics. He wrote all of Rollin' With The Blues Boss' eleven tracks, and while he's known as a rollicking pianist, he isn't afraid to toss in some of his own electric piano, Rhodes, and clavinet, as well as banjo, harmonica and horns - not to mention jungle sounds - into the mix.
It's a primarily upbeat collection, produced by the legendary Tom Lavin, leader of the Powder Blues Band. (Their "Boppin' With The Blues" was a rare blues-crossover hit and remains a Canadian standard of sorts). Lavin's signature sound, with ringing guitar and bright, bouncy horns, is evident from the start. The rest of the rather large cast - in all some sixteen participants - is primarily Canadian, with the exception of guests Diunna Greenleaf and Eric Bibb, who contribute to a track each.
It's Wayne's show, though, and the sartorially-resplendent showman's personality shines through. His compositions can be a bit quirky - "You Bring The Jungle Out In Me" really does employ jungle sounds - but he always seems to be having an irresistibly good time, and for the most part it's infectious.
Much of the collection simmers in a jazzy vein without really falling into a bluesy vibe until the end- "Leavin' In The Morning," "Roadrunner," "I Can't Believe It," and "Slow Down" all shimmer with a relaxed, uptown feel. Wayne's at his boisterous and exuberant best, though, with the one-two-three- closing trio of "Ogopogo Boogie," "Keep On Rockin,'" and the aptly-named "Out Like A Bullet." The duet with Bibb, "Two Sides," adds a bit of a gospel touch and features some nice acoustic guitar from Bibb.
Performances throughout are fine. Lavin's production is thoroughly professional but can be a bit overbearing - despite the presence of a banjo and harmonica, "Hootenanny Boogie Woogie" simply sounds too slick, and the synthesized strings (unlisted in the credits) don't really add much to the moody "Baby It Ain't You."
If it's hard-core twelve-bar blues you're after, Wayne, despite the name, may not be your best bet. If you don't mind a bit of bright and breezy in your blues, though, along with a thoroughly contemporary approach and sound, Rollin' With The Blues Boss is a fun listen ...