Willie Kent – Too Hurt to Cry (1994)

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It’s uncommon to find a blues recording with so much originality and verve.

Willie “Sugar Bear” Kent, already memorable (as with, say, Willie Dixon) for being the rare leader who plays bass, dared take the music to a new place on this one.

Featured is trumpeter and arranger Malachi Thompson, whose idea of jazz mixes the Jelly Roll Morton/Buddy Bolden tinge with free-jazz horn excursions. An unlikely choice to augment Kent’s soulful Chicago muse, the results are sometimes challenging, often special and surprisingly successful.

Born in Inverness, Miss., in 1936, Kent had made his way to Chicago as a traveling musician by age 13 and ultimately found his widest early acclaim with Eddie Taylor, with whom Kent appeared on the terrific “Bad Boy.” He started, as so many do, by blending the secular and the spiritual — “blues and gospel come from the same place,” he once said; “they’re both from the heart” — then took it one long stride further on “Too Hurt to Cry.”

Over a lengthy career, Kent initially recorded infrequently. There had been, in fact, just two sides from Kent prior to 1989. This one was part of a torrent over the next decade, as Kent then issued five times as many into the 2000s — and won Handy Awards for bass playing on just as many occasions. Maybe that pushed him to new levels of creativity. Kent still relishes the 12-bar country style of his youth, even while he mixes in a brilliant Southside sizzle then, occasionally, takes a hard left into something new entirely.

A soul-lifting, bone-deep vocal delivery (Kent makes even run-of-the-mill blues concepts hum with emotion) might have been enough to sell any album, but it’s made truly transcendent by Thompson’s charts. They stretch out to provide plenty of time for both horn blast and guitar moan.

Billy Branch sits in on harp for a couple of tunes. A highlight is Kent’s stirring rendition of Buddy Guy’s “A Man and the Blues.”

This record is a man and so much more.

Purchase: Willie Kent – Too Hurt to Cry

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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