Recently turned 80, Harrison Kennedy is rightfully viewed as a valued elder statesman of the Canadian blues community, but he’s not resting on any laurels. Kennedy continues to record and perform at a very high level, so his new offering, Thanks For Tomorrow, has been keenly anticipated.
As you’re likely aware, the proud Hamiltonian first found success as a founding member of ‘70s American soul group Chairmen Of The Board. He then went on to hone his chops as a blues singer/songwriter with a distinct style, and it has been heartening to see his work over the past 15 years gain international acclaim.
He has earned multiple Blues Music Award nominations from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, and in 2016 Kennedy took home a Blues Album of the Year Juno Award for his release, This Is From Here, one that also won the prestigious Academie Charles Cros in France for 2016 Blues Album of the Year.
This Is From Here was co-produced by renowned keyboardist Jesse O’Brien, with Colin Linden guesting on several tracks, and both reprise those roles on Thanks For Tomorrow. Chris Caddell also plays guitar, Ruthie Foster adds guest vocals, and the ace rhythm section comprises Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn).
This A-team of talent does justice to the 11 new Kennedy compositions and one  cover featured on Thanks For Tomorrow, his seventh album on highly-regarded Canadian indie label Electro-Fi Records.
Kicking off the album in fine style is “All I Need,” the first of many tunes here to address various facets of those eternal themes of love and lust. “I got the tickets, I’m ready to ride,” declares Kennedy, as Ruthie Foster trades lines and harmonises with him in vibrant fashion.
Next up is “Easiest Thing I Do,” a sweet tune with something of a jaunty country blues feel, and gently romantic sentiments – “I got a woman who’s old school, loving her is the easiest thing I do.”
The title cut, “Thanks For Tomorrow,” has equally positive lyrics, as Kennedy offers thanks “to the girl who brought me out of this loving rut.” Foster adds effective backing and harmony vocals, and a mid-song guitar solo also works on a tune celebrating the redemptive power of love.
It is followed by “On Call Man,” a rollicking tune featuring harmonica and crisp acoustic guitar work alongside some virile roadhouse piano by O’Brien. Here, Kennedy pledges to deliver the goods – “I just want to keep you satisfied, any way I can.” Musically, he certainly does that here.
“Women” is a short (2.40) and sweet number paying homage to “women in the new millennium.” “There ain’t nothing a woman can’t do, where would we be without you?,” declares Kennedy. Some lovely slide from Linden and O’Brien’s organ fills are prominent, and the mellow richness of Kennedy’s voice takes centrestage.
The next number, “Checking You Out,” features an appreciation of women in an earthier manner – “they say love is blind, my eyes are open wide, checking you out.” Jaunty harp, piano and slide drive this one.
“Crazy Love,” the only non-original on the album, is, of course, a well-known song from the catalogue of Van Morrison. Kennedy’s version is slower and sparser, and his richly soulful voice is vividly displayed. Linden contributes shimmering slide guitar and O’Brien adds fluent piano. The result is an album highlight that merits radio play and could even elicit praise from the cranky Irishman who wrote it.
Next up is “Memphis Trippin’,” a lowdown slow and dirty blues on which Kennedy’s signature sweet vocals take on a gruffer and grittier tone, with equal effectiveness. An extended piano and guitar break halfway through adds atmosphere.
The pace then picks up again with “Cranky Woman,” a toe-tapper driven by O’Brien’s boisterous piano and some virile guitar picking. The subject here is the kind of gal who’ll “give away the bone, but she’s keepin’ all the meat.”
Kennedy then mixes things up once more with “Doomed,” a tune with more of a roots rock than blues vibe. Of course, his elite band move easily with the mood change, and the result is another album highlight.
He returns to standard blues terrain on “You Lost Me,” and its familiar “she done me wrong” theme. “You emptied the cupboards and threw all my clothes outdoors,” Kennedy laments. The line “you lost your sweet taste man” references his nickname of “Sweet Taste.”
The album closes out with “Just Wanna Play,” the shortest cut (2.13) and a fun upbeat declaration of intent –  “Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the working class … just want to play soul music, jump n’ blues all day.”
We can indeed be glad Harrison Kennedy chose to follow his passion. Play on, young man. (Kerry Doole)