Publicity: Blind Raccoon
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © November 2022
Simply said, Yates McKendree is a musical genius. Between his writing, vocal and engineering skills (which garnered him a Grammy while still in his teens), and his ability to play just about whatever instrument he feels like, there is no better word to describe him. How many other “high school kids” do you know who engineered and performed on recordings of legendary artists between classes? Speaking of school, being self-taught since the age of three, I can’t help but wonder if while in school he intimidated his teachers by knowing more about music than they did – just as that adolescent science brainiac on that TV situation comedy does. Yep, Yates McKendree could very well be the Sheldon Cooper of music. Remember where you heard that, in case it becomes a thing. :>)
Yates McKendree’s debut release, named for a street where he and his father Kevin McKendree reside, is titled Buchanan Lane. The project contains thirteen tracks with a few being Yates’ originals, a few being collaborations between him and Gary Nicholson, and the rest being covers of his inspirations and heroes. Musically, Yates – on vocals, guitar, piano, Hammond organ, bass and drums, is joined by: his dad, and the disc’s producer, Kevin McKendree on Hamond organ. piano and Wurlitzer electric piano; Big Joe Maher and Kenneth Blevins on drums and percussion; Steve Mackey on upright bass; Jim Hoke on saxophones; Andrew Carney on trumpets; Roland Barber on trombones; Gregg Garner on electric bass; Andrew White on rhythm guitar; and The McCrary Sisters on background vocals.
The disc opens with a satirically titled original track called “Out Crowd”. The instrumental features Yates, Kevin and Big Joe, in a mighty fine jazz groove on the piano, Hammond organ, drums and percussion. Those familiar with it will surely notice its similarity to a hit with a similar name by the late and legendary Ramsey Lewis.
Switching instruments and tempo, this dance inducing rendition of B. B. King’s “Ruby Lee” has Yates laying down some very nice guitar runs and soulful vocals that I’m sure the king himself would have approved of. And just as B. B. himself often did, Yates surrounded himself with a piano (Kevin) and a fabulous three-piece horn section (Jim, Andrew and Roland), to give a little extra oomph to the already powerful rhythm that Steve and Big Joe are pounding out on the big bass and drums.
The opening line on this collaboration with Gary Nicholson caused me to chuckle. It has Yates, who is twenty-one years old, wanting to “Ask father time to turn back the clock”. Although the chuckle quickly stopped, the smile on my face that accompanied it remained, as “No Justice” developed into a killer slow blues number – always a favorite for me. Instrumentally it isn’t, but musician wise the song is actually a duo. It features Yates: belting out real deal, old school blues on the vocals; lighting it up with slow, scorching blues guitar licks; and providing his own moody rhythm groove that help these types of songs work so well on the Hammond organ, drums and bass; along with his very first inspiration and hero, his father Kevin, helping out on piano.
On a song that fuses jump blues, soul and some old school R&B – that was originally done by a full orchestra back in 1953 – Yates and company stepped up to the plate and knocked their rendition of “Brand New Neighborhood” (Fletcher Smith) out of the park. At just two-and-a-half minutes long, the track may be short on time but certainly not on what it’s got going on.
It takes big ones to take on a Dr. John cover and it takes immense skills to do it masterfully. On “Qualified”, Yates and the band checked both of those boxes. The song contains a barrage of similes that include “Your steak ain’t no hipper than my pork chop”, “Your Cadillac ain’t no hipper than my bus stop”, and many, many more. It’s classic Dr, John material that Yates just took and ran with. Musically it features a funky N’awlins vibe with barrel house piano (Kevin); blaring horns (Jim, Andrew and Roland); Hard driving rhythm and percussion (Gregg and Kenneth); and bodacious backup vocals (The fabulous McCrary Sisters).
It’s this listener’s opinion, and that’s probably because the song is a scorching blues ballad, that Yates’ vocal and guitar performance on this track could be his best on the disc. It’s a flawlessly done cover of an early fifties song by Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones titled “It Hurts To Love Someone”. Interestingly, hearing this very young man sound so perfect on these old school songs, I’m wondering if father time did indeed turn back the clock when he asked.
Sticking with what he obviously loves to do, Yates again takes on another classic titled “Wine, Wine, Wine”. The song was originally done in 1954 by Jimmy Binkley and His Jazz Quartet and this time it’s being nailed by the Yates McKendree Trio, with Yates on vocals and piano; Steve Mackey on upright bass; and Big Joe Maher on drums.
Other tracks on “Buchanan Lane” – which should at least garner Yates some “rising star” or “new artist” type nominations – include: two more originals, titled “Wise” and “Voodoo”; “Always A First Time” (E. King); “Papa Ain’t Salty” (G. McDaniel/T-Bone Walker); “No Reason” (C. Davis/M. Young); and “Please Mr. Doctor” (H. Whitaker); all songs I could have easily raved about as well.
Side note: while in Nashville very recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Kevin McKendree at the Blue Bird Cafe and I mentioned to him that I had just received the CD before leaving town and was looking very forward to it being my first review after returning home. That said, I hope that he, Yates and the rest of The Rock House All Stars liked what I had to say as much as I liked saying it.
Should like to find out more about Yates McKendree and this release, just go to the labels’ website: www.qualifiedrecords.com/yates – Remember, wherever you go and whomever you speak with, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient