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Willie Kent: Make Room for the Blues

Bassist Willie Kent has been a stalwart on Chicago’s West Side since the late ’50s. On his fourth album as a leader,Make Room For the Blues (Delmark DE-723; 72:03), he delivers his meat-and-potatoes brand of blues backed by a tightknit ensemble from the old school. Guitarists Billy Flynn and Jake Dawson eschew any rock trappings by playing with slinky clean tones and typically aggressive attacks while the leader holds down rock solid grooves with drummer James Carter. Kenny Barker summons up the spirit of Chicago icons like Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Sunnyland Slim with his rolling piano work on Kent’s jumped up boogie woogie, “3-6-9.” That raw West Side chemistry is augmented by some slick three-part horn arrangements on “Saturday Night,” the tough title track and the deep soul ballad “I’m What You Need.” Kent’s hearty vocals-at times strikingly close to New Orleans’ late, great Johnny Adams-punctuate his no-nonsense Chicago shuffles like “Do You Love Me?” “Me and My Baby” and the Elmore James tribute “I Had a Dream,” which features some menacing slide work by guitartist Flynn. Flynn also contributes two standout tracks in “Teach Me How to Lie” and the minor key groover “I’m Hooked.” The Mississippi Delta native has been doing it in Chicago since 1959. Forty years later, Kent is still going strong, waving the flag for the Windy City’s West Side.

Originally Published