Personnel: Kenny Neal (vocals, guitar); Billy Branch (vocals, harp).
Personnel: Kenny Neal (vocals, guitar); Billy Branch (vocals, harmonica).
Audio Mixer: Romain Frydman.
Recording information: Studio Lakanal, Montpelier, France.
Photographer: Paul Natkin.
This no-frills Alligator reissue of 2003's Easy Meeting (recorded in France, 1998), allows a wider audience to hear this exceptional recording, which might have been all but impossible to find on its previous indie label. Louisiana swamp guitarist/vocalist Neal is well known through his nine discs on Alligator and Telarc, but harp player Branch is a more obscure, yet tremendously talented bluesman who blues fans may recognize from his inclusion on Alligator's 1991 Harp Attack. Branch ended up a little lost on that project since he had to share the spotlight with James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Junior Wells, but here, even working with Neal, he shines. This is a low-key but charming, predominantly acoustic project, split fairly evenly between classics, new tunes, and obscurities. Neal has the better voice, and sings seven of the 12 tracks, but Branch does a fine job on his five tunes, even between verses where he's playing harp. There aren't many -- if any -- overdubs, and the session is as loose and down-home as you'd expect from two seasoned musicians. Branch blows strong, electrified harmonica only slightly less cutting and explosive than Little Walter (two of whose hits "My Babe" and "I Just Keep Loving Her" are here), and is particularly impressive on the slow blues of his original "Northern Man Blues," where he switches from amplified to unplugged settings. Neal revisits "The Son I Never Knew," from his 1989 Devil Child release -- twice actually -- and the song in both of its versions (the second features Branch on amplified harp) is an album highlight. Other than a cover of "Mannish Boy" that, at nearly eight minutes, should have been pruned to four, the duo keeps the songs and performances concise, but still lazy and swampy. In fact, it sounds like the musicians were lounging on their porch on a sweltering summer's night. This is a relaxed, casual but moving album that goes down easy and doesn't try to be more than what it is, which is what ultimately makes it so successful. ~ Hal Horowitz
Entertainment Weekly (1/16/04, p.71) - "[T]he duo...delivers a set of country blues that might just renew your faith in the eternal verities." - Rating: A-
Living Blues (01/04, pp.52-3) - "[A]n appropriate centerpiece to a masterful outing by two of today's most important and consistently innovative blues artists."