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Kearney's Got the Cure
by Laura Dobbins


Kerry KearneyIt happens to most of us on Sunday nights—that post-weekend, pre-work week malaise starts creeping in. The feeling is hard to fight, but on a recent balmy spring evening, I was able to quell my impending despair. With all the perversity of paradox, listening to the raucous, gritty wailing and upbeat blues of Kerry Kearney and his Long Island-based 4-member band at Chicago B.L.U.E.S. in New York City was a perfect cure.

It’s hard to go wrong at Chicago B.L.U.E.S., one of the premier places to hear classic and up-and-coming blues in Manhattan. It’s got all the requisite blues-bar fixtures: beer-washed floors, stale cigs, and a dark interior with a back-lit bar. Not surprisingly, there were a fair number of people there with me, trying to keep the weekend going with some live music.

Kerry Kearney CDKearney opened with "Girl from Memphis," the first track from his new self-titled album. It’s a shy swagger of a song whose frequent refrain "I got a girl from Memphis" makes you smile at this guy’s boyish happiness—and maybe wish you were from Memphis too. He moved on to "Long Way from Home," a countryish tune that inspires an internal "Yee-ha!" Luckily Kearney let loose with one at the end, so we all got release from the pent-up country yells that were barely restrained during the band’s energetic playing. Frank  Celenza executed a potent upright bass solo on his electric bass, the likes of which I’ve rarely heard—As if Dylan were introducing electricity to the folk scene for the first time, except in reverse.

Kearney’s got a classic blues voice, graveled with closed-off nasal passages—all the oomph comes from his throat and sinus cavities, which thankfully must be considerable. But Kearney’s melodic singing takes second stage to his extraordinary dexterity on the dobro and guitar. How could those thick, almost pudgy, fingers with the squared-off tips continuously find and execute 16th and even 32nd notes with ease and so on target? Somehow they always did.

One of my beefs with blues musicians are the long, over-wrought, ritualistic solos they insist each member take in every song—it becomes an embarrassing masturbatory exercise that forgets that the music they are creating is a shared experience with the audience. Kearney’s band gave us plenty of pleasurable, heart-felt solos, but I never had to avert my eyes or think, "Will you get on with it already?" They stayed true to the blues tradition, but kept a pop sensibility. 

Worth mentioning is Kearney’s rendition of Chuck Berry’s "Roll Over Beethoven," which starts with the opening bars of Ricki Lee Jones’s "Chuck E.’s in Love" and keeps that galloping sound going beneath it. Add to that a growling harmonica, and it’s a whole new way to look at this classic song. It’s as if he distills the blues out of the rock n’ roll version so we can all see where rock came from.

The night continued with classic blues sounds perked up with zydeco and country guitar licks. If it weren’t Giuliani New York (i.e. antidance New York), people would have been kicking up their heels, twirling their partners, and letting loose. But maybe toe-tapping was enough—Monday morning was, afterall, coming.

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