Wednesday, April 05, 2006:

The Roots Canal (guest blog): Luther Kent

Luther Kent & Trick Bag -- Let's Straighten It Out
It's amazing to me that Luther Kent never became a bigger star. Man, can he sing the blues! He's been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for at least thirty years. In fact, he was the lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears for a while in the mid-70s but never cut a record with them because of a contract dispute with another label.

I first heard Luther Kent on my only other trip to Jazzfest, back in 1997. My friend Talo, who grew up outside New Orleans, told me not to miss this New Orleans legend. I wasn't disappointed. This big bear of a man came on stage and belted out the blues like no one else. He's really in a league with the great blues shouters of the '40s and '50s like Big Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown and the rest. I can't think of anyone else singing today I'd say that about.

And the band! Trick Bag was put together by Charlie Brent. It's got a horn section not to be believed. They barely fit on a stage. Of course, it takes a big sound to stand up to a big voice like Luther's.

I'm thrilled that Luther and Trick Bag will be back at Jazzfest on the weekend I'll be there. It's one of the reasons I chose that weekend (along with Bob Dylan, Dr. John, the Meters, Keb Mo, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, et al.) I can't wait to see him again!

[Luther Kent & Trick Bag Live]
With Eddie Bo! And Etta James! I've used up all my exclamation points!

What do you think of Keb Mo's work, anyway? I loved (loved, loved) his first album, but the ones after that have impressed me less and less.

That's a good version Kent did. (O.V. Wright did an impressive version of it too.)

Apparently the song is originally by Benny Latimore, though I haven't heard the version by Latimore (or Gwen McCrae, or B.B. King, or Millie Jackson).

I love Keb Mo! All of his first three albums! Yes, but then he went downhill!

Now he's producing the subdudes! They'll be at Jazzfest, too! I'll post one of their songs soon!

rock on.

Seriously, Keb Mo is a conundrum to me. I've always been drawn more to "bluesy" music than to pure blues, either the traditional country style or the modern hard rockin' version. What I love is when a talented musician internalizes the attitude of the blues and interprets it in a way that's original.

Like you, when I stumbled across Keb Mo's eponymous first album, I was completely blown away. This guy totally captured the spirit of the blues in a form that wasn't quite blues, exactly. It was both modern and traditional at the same time. I became an acolyte. For me, it was the "perfect" music and I couldn't get enough of it.

I was a little disappointed by the second album, Just Like You, although it's grown on me recently. But I thought he made a tremendous comeback with his third album, Slow Down, which is my favorite (along with the first). A lot of people put that album down, but I'm not sure why. I feel that he reached a new level of maturity in songs like "Muddy Water" and "I Was Wrong."

Then The Door came out. I was shocked at how bad it was. Big Wide Grin was pitiful. Keep It Simple was an improvement, but still not at the level of the earlier albums. I can't really take Peace seriously, although I have a weakness for his remakes of 60s standards like "For What It's Worth," "People Got to Be Free" and "Get Together."

I can't imagine what happened. He was so amazingly talented. Maybe he just said what he had to say, and that's it. Wasn't he a session musician before he became a blues singer? It feels like it's become more about the professionalism than the underlying spirit. Sad.

But hey, who knows what would have happened to Robert Johnson if he hadn't been cut down in his prime?

He started in jazz (IIRC he mentioned it briefly in the concert I saw him at in 1997). Maybe he fell afoul of what happened to Dylan after he got rich and famous--"it's hard to be a bitter millionaire." I'm hoping he'll figure out a solid direction to take up and make a comeback.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I just caught wind of two identical comments posted in two different places, which looks an awful lot like astroturfing.

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