Canada’s Preeminent Bluesman Harrison Kennedy Makes His Career Best with ‘Thanks For Tomorrow’ (ALBUM REVIEW

The parallel here is just too striking to ignore. Just as the now well-decorated bluesman Bobby Rush did not win a Grammy until he was into his eighties, after many nominations, with his album Porcupine Meat, Canada’s preeminent bluesman Harrison Kennedy, the recently turned octogenarian, may have also made the best blues album of his career with Thanks for Tomorrow. Both Rush and Kennedy have in their careers straddled the worlds of soul and blues and each has returned to authentic blues in their late careers. Okay, Kennedy did win Canada’s equivalent, the JUNO Award in 2016 for Blues Album of the Year for This is From Here but Kennedy himself feels that this one is even better. Just as Rush turned to stellar backing musicians, so too does Kennedy with guitarist Colin Linden and on one track Ruthie Foster. The album is produced by keyboardist Jesse O’Brien (Levon Helm) and also features Linden’s Blackie and the Rodeo Kings rhythm tandem of drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond, the same core behind his 2016 winner. 

This writer gets weary of the phrase describing Kennedy as “best known as a founding member of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s million-selling ‘70s Soul Supergroup the ‘Chairmen of the Board.’” That was too long ago and diminishes all the great work that Kennedy has done in blues, garnering multiple nominations and awards. Yet, this may well be the best blues album he’s done for its diverse styles, his original songs, and mostly his one-of-a-kind vocals. It deserves to fare at least as well as its predecessor. 

The album kicks off with the single, the bouncy shuffle “All I Need Is You,” as Kennedy and Foster join in a joyous duet as Linden strums his acoustic and O’Brien colors in with the B3. “Easiest Thing I Do” is a country blues while the hand clapping, stomping title track revs up the electric accompaniment and gets all the body parts moving. “On Call Man” features O’Brien’s rollicking piano Chicago style with Kennedy singing authentically and blowing his harp.  “Women” is a mid-tempo ballad, praising the opposite sex to tasty slide from Linden and B3 from O’Brien as Kennedy’s soul style comes to the fore. 

“Checkin’ You Out” won’t impress with its predictable lyrics but it swings with O’Brien’s piano, and Kennedy’s blissful phrasing, harmonica, and the steady rhythm groove. His standout cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” is easily the best interpretation of this oft-covered song. Kennedy’s impassioned vocal here and his slowing of the tempo add added emotional impact to every lyric, further accented by the searing support of Linden’s slide. It’s as if Kennedy shifted into a grittier gear with the gutbucket “Memphis Trippin’,” cutting deep with O’Brien’s piano and Linden’s piercing jabs. “Cranky Woman” carries that “High Heel Sneakers” feel as Kennedy urges on Linden in perhaps his best solo on the disc. O’Brien follows suit on the piano and at this point, one just realizes these basic blues structured tunes would be rather bland in the hands of many others but Kennedy’s soul-drenched, convicted vocals make each seem like a new discovery.

 “Doomed” has a different tune, haunting and spellbinding with Kennedy reaching into the higher registers. “You Lost Me” is an electrified country blues while the closing “Just Wanna’ Play” ratchets up the boogie-woogie as the band gets down into a fun jam with Kennedy wailing on blues harp and singing “just want to play soul music and jumping blues all day.”  It’s another simple one shrouded with no pretensions whatsoever.  Kennedy feels it and you will too.  Thinking of today’s living blues singers, Kennedy has to be among the top five. Kennedy’s second JUNO award likely awaits. 

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