Matthew Curry & the Fury, 6:30 p.m.
The party starts here! Matthew Curry is a teenage phenom from Normal, Illinois, who plays guitar, writes songs, and sings. He is backed by the Fury - veteran performers Greg Neville on drums and Jeff Paxton on bass.
In 2011, Matthew was awarded second place (first was taken by a Tommy Castro collaboration) in the International Songwriting Competition for his composition "Blinded by the Darkness," a slow, Chicago-sounding blues that features his Clapton-like guitar melodies. The song is included on the 2011 debut CD for Matthew Curry & the Fury, If I Don't Got You.
According to a review of the CD in Blues Blast, "Matthew's vocals are also tight - he sells the lyrics with his great intonation and fire in his voice. On 'Hear the Highway,' Curry takes us on another fiery ride, where he tells us the story of how he wants to hit the road and bring his blues to the world, and I believe him. This kid is committed to his craft, and his roots in the blues sound deep and firm. The guitar here is driving and flaming hot."
ReverbNation says that Matthew's influences include Sonny Landreth, Albert Collins, ZZ Top, and Joe Bonamassa. That should give you some idea of the kind of scorching, driven set you'll hear from Matthew Curry & the Fury.
For more information, visit MatthewCurry.com. - Karen McFarland
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, 8:30 p.m.
I'm probably like most of you; you've never heard of most of the musicians at the festival but you come to listen to them anyway because it's the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. That means they're good. I'd never heard of these guys either, but when I heard Sugar Ray & the Bluetones on one of Bob Covemaker's KALA programs, I found out that this band is really good.
Sugar Ray Norcia has been singing the blues and playing harmonica professionally since the late '70s, when he formed a band with Ronnie Earl. His talent has allowed him to collaborate with some of the best in the business, including a six-year gig as frontman for the legendary Roomful of Blues. He's also frequently recorded with Duke Robillard and Joe Louis Walker.
His current band includes "Monster" Mike Welch on guitar, Neil Gouvin on drums, bassist Michael "Mudcat" Ward, and Anthony Geraci on piano. Their sound is so authentic that William Ruhlmann in the All Music Guide wrote, "This Roomful of Blues alumnus sounds more like a Mississippi expatriate living on Chicago's South Side."
You don't need to go to Chicago or Mississippi. Just be at the bandshell at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
For more information, visit SugarRayAndTheBluetones.com. - Stan Furlong
Kenny Neal, 10:30 p.m.
Kenny Neal hails from the swamps of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his blues reflect that: smooth and laid-back with a dash of funk. He's known as a swamp-blues master, and he excels on guitar, harmonica, and vocals. Born in 1957, Kenny grew up in a musical family led by his father Raful Neal, a local harmonica player whose friends included Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy, and Slim Harpo. As a child, Kenny mastered harmonica, then moved on to bass, trumpet, piano, and guitar. At 13, he joined his father's band as a bass player, and by 17, he was Buddy Guy's bassist. Buddy advised Kenny to focus on his guitar-playing, so Kenny relocated to Toronto with three of his brothers and formed the Neal Brothers Band. Later he fronted Canada's Downchild Blues band before returning to Baton Rouge to begin his solo career.
In 1987, Kenny Neal cut his debut album, Bio on the Bayou, for Florida producer Bob Greelee and Kingsnake Records. Alligator Records picked it up the following year and marketed it as Big News from Baton Rouge! Then Kenny expanded his horizons and in 1991 won the Theatre World Award for Best New Talent on Broadway for his acting work in Mulebone, a play by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston with music by Taj Mahal. He toured Africa for the State Department in 1993. He continued to tour and record until hepatitis C forced him to take a year off; his comeback album on Blind Pig Records, Let Life Flow (2008), helped Kenny get four (!) Grammy nominations. The All Music Guide described it as "once again incorporating his gritty Louisiana roots with a sophisticated Chicago/Memphis soul approach." His most recent CD is Hooked on Your Love (2010). Last year Kenny Neal was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
But none of this information really expresses the soul of Kenny Neal. The last time he played our Fest, he was in the tent - and he stole the night from the zydeco band that came on after him. Kenny's music is mesmerizing, and you can dance to it, too. His energy is always upbeat and positive. Let life flow!