Review: Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne takes trip to blues heaven

The most successful type of boss leads by excellent example. Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, long a boogie and blues music treasure around the globe, and especially in his home country Canada, validates his nickname in several compelling ways on this, his 12th album. Wayne’s natural but long-practiced syncopation makes for a buoyant and mighty blues experience. Rippling on piano and singing in a voice full of enthusiasm and quiet intensity, listeners are instantly caught up in his orbit. Pianist Memphis Slim and bassist Willie Dixon gave off the same vibes when they toured the world together in trio configurations during the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Blues from Chicago to Paris: A Tribute to Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon,” features Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s trio having a ball with Dixon and Slim’s phenomenal music. The Boss is indeed in the house, rocking it into blues heaven.

The substantial 70-minute program consists of 17 atypical songs, especially so in the case of the incredibly prolific Dixon. No “Smokestack Lightning,” I Ain’t Superstitious,” or any of Dixon’s dozens of classics. Most wouldn’t fit this stylish, often jumping, and always piano-led mode. Rather, the Blues Boss Trio — Wayne, bassist/backing vocalist Russell Jackson, and drummer Joey DiMarco — are uplifting and commanding on such Dixon numbers as “The Way She Loves a Man.” As Wayne echoes words of pure joy, he rides the groove like he’s riding a bicycle, hands waving in the air. Personality and glee truly shine. But on “New Way to Love,” for just one example, he gets down to serious business, calling the shots in robust voice and with striking piano play.        

Memphis Slim performed the blues like a sunbeam, but he could just as well be slinky and sexy, or gospel inspired. The Blues Boss Trio launches this homage in heated fashion with Slim’s “Rock this House,” delightfully showing off their immense talents as well as the drive behind the project. Later, their traipse through Slim’s “Stewball” displays a different side of them, and Slim, by wonderfully highlighting musical communication, and empathy for the early African American experience all at once. How a song about a racehorse can call to mind field workers in the old South proves the brilliance of all bluesmen through the generations. The times may have changed, but this music remains timeless.   

-Tom Clarke

Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne
‘Blues from Chicago to Paris: A Tribute to Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon’
Label: Stony Plain Records
Release: March 4, 2022

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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