Sonny Kenn has been at the forefront of rock-and-roll since the 1960s. Kenn is credited with starting the rock scene here in New Jersey, and I can understand why. Even before the standard names register, Kenn was there first, tearing things up and leaving the locals starving for more. He got his real musical start with Sonny Kenn and The Starfires (featuring future E-Streeter, Vinnie Lopez) in the mid-60s before evolving into Sonny Kenn and the Wild Ideas. Kenn also played in a trio with Southside Johnny called Maelstrom. He has been around since day one, and his contributions to New Jersey music are more significant than I can mention in this short article. Kenn’s fluid style of blues, jazz, and fifties styled rock ‘n’ roll is legendary to say the very least. For a guy that started with, and played with some of the state’s biggest stars, Kenn still can be seen playing locally at any given night of the week in Monmouth County.
Kenn has released his music sporadically over the years including 1993’s Can’t Stop Now, and his second studio release, Screams Grooves and Brand-New Blues, in 2005. For a long time, we’ve waited for his next original version, and now in 2017, it’s finally here. Saturday Night at the Silhouette Lounge features 12 blues-based gems that feature Kenn and a bevy of his talented sidekicks mixing things up old-school and way cool. Recorded at JankLand Recording Studio in Wall Township with Trumpet man Steve Jankowski, Kenn is back and in rare form for this long-awaited record.
His pick of sidemen for this record is a veritable “Who’s Who” of Jersey-based musicians. Chris Plunkett handles bass work, Charlie Warwick mans pianos, organs and backing vocals, Vick Bayers and Bobby Boyd work the drums, Dan Koncelik does percussion, Tommy Labella does sax and flute, Doug Dehays is on Baritone sax, Lonnie Johnson does harmonica and backing vocals, Steve Jankowski plays trumpet and Kenn handles all guitars and lead vocals.
Kenn tells the story of this record in the jacket. When he was around 11 years old, he used to accompany his mother (she worked in the kitchen at the bar), and he would sit out front and drink cokes while the owners gave him money to pump into the jukebox. He played R&B, rock ‘n’ roll playlists all night long. He had lost his dad a couple of years earlier and sitting in this dark, red-velvet-lined heaven was his introduction to music. The best part was when they had live music. There was a stage at the back of the room for the rock bands and a smaller one built into the middle of the circular bar with a Hammond B-3 for the organ combos. And there he was, right in the middle of ground zero. He couldn’t wait for the music to start because it was Saturday Night at the Silhouette Lounge and everything was fresh.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the music that Kenn has made on Saturday Night at the Silhouette Lounge.
First song up is the record’s namesake. Kenn’s trademark slinky six-string sound kicks things off along with pianos by Warwick. Sonny’s voice is full and robust as he vamps harmonic chord slides. Kenn brings back memories of Randy Newman as he takes us on his journey described above. Kenn wraps everything up in a big greasy bow as he pulls off his trademark single-string lead break. Drums for this track are courtesy of Vic Bayers, who plays in the pocket and out of site along with Plunkett, who I believe is playing stand-up bass on this track. I love Kenn’s bridge work, and the chord slides he utilizes to step things up the compositional ladder. Kenn puts no airs on as he plays and its some outright fantastic blues guitar work.
Moving around a bit, I came to another top-notch tune called “Buy Me a Drink.” Jankowski steps up and blows trademark Trumpet over the top of Kenn’s lazy, hazy jazz chord work. Kenn doesn’t hesitate to buy the lady in question that drink as he kicks into a Les Paul styled jazz lead. His tone is warm and vibrant as Bayers and Plunkett hold things down to the ground.
“Doin’ The Crazy Squirrel” is up next. Kenn vamps jazz chords as Tommy Labella honks over the top for a bit. Kenn breaks into his middle-eight with a Chet Atkins inspired lead break to beat the band. Jazzy and a little bit raucous, Kenn’s six-string work is always satisfying to hear. Labella is back with a sax blast that absolutely kills as he marches over the top of Kenn and crew before the organ work of Charlie Warwick takes center-stage. Warwick warbles and wiggles into the heart of the song before backing off for guitars and Labella’s Sax to hit again. I absolutely love the chord progressions here, and this is one of my favorites on the disc.
Moving around some more I came across the song, “Your Reputation Serves You Right.” Ken sings the woes of the ungrateful lover that has left their mark on each one of us at one time or another. Kenn starts things off with jazzy, rock-inflections as he layers his composition with bends, pull-offs, and turnarounds. Finger snaps enhance the piece before Kenn pulls off his best Al Caiola riffs in the middle-eight. Organs, bass and drums punctuate the song as Kenn continues his tale of being “another sucker on your list.” Catchy and traditional along the lines of Muddy Waters, “Your Reputation Serves You Right” serves up down-home R&B delights.
Another outstanding song is the bluesy, B.B. King feel of “We’re Breaking Up.” Doug Dehays joins Labella on baritone sax and Jankowski on trumpet for this one. Kenn’s authentic blues tone blows over the top like BB himself. Kenn sings the real blues of love gone far wrong before Warwick tickles the ivories. The horn arrangements are top-notch and toned up just right as Kenn breaks back into his warm, and rounded blues lead in the back end of the song.
“Does She Think Of Me” rounds out the disc. Kenn departs from his blues-based style to enter the ballad arena. Acoustic guitars dance with bell-clear pianos and bass as Kenn sings his melody. The song itself is a beautiful composition in the vein of 1990s Gary Moore. Lyrics are heartfelt and covered in warm regard for the one he wonders about. His acoustic lead break is pristine and emotional before it makes way for Warwick’s soulful piano work. Well-crafted songwriting finishes this one and the disc.
This is one of those CD’s that will stay in my keeper pile for quite a long time. Kenn covers all the bases on Saturday Night at the Silhouette Lounge. Blues, rock, and ballad writing all come together to form a catchy, cohesive and heartfelt disc of great music. I’m so glad he did this, and I can’t wait to see him play some of this music live. Sonny Kenn continues to be a songwriting treasure for New Jersey and the world beyond, and if you get a chance, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this record asap.
For more information on Sonny Kenn and his excellent new record, Saturday Night at the Silhouette Lounge, head over to sonnykennband.com.