Roadhouse Album Review: Yates McKendree debut sparkles with a drive along “Buchanan Lane”

Yates McKendree — “Buchanan Lane — Qualified Records

It’s always a pleasure to find new talent to write about and recommend for your listening pleasure.

The trouble with describing 21-year-old Yates McKendree as new talent, however, is that he has more than 10 years of professional experience under his belt (or wherever one keeps such experience).

While still in high school, Yates worked as both a player and engineer on projects that included Delbert McClinton and John Hiatt. In January 2020, Yates earned a Grammy for his role as an engineer and a musician on McClinton’s “Tall Dark & Handsome” album.

And before that, he was something of a child prodigy, picking out melodies on piano and organ at home with his father, the very notable, award-winning producer, engineer, and piano man, Kevin McKendree. Eventually, he grew into the piano, organ, drums, guitar and bass. Not to mention singing and songwriting.

We didn’t get to hear most of those musical growth spurts when they happened, but with this fine debut album, we get to discover the range of his talents in one sparkling session.

The session kicks off with the lighthearted, jazzy “Out Crowd,” a Kevin and Yates original instrumental keyboard duet tribute to the Ramsey Lewis hit, “The In Crowd.”

That’s followed by a quickstep toward the blues, with Yates on a sprightly cover of an old B.B. King cut, the Latinesque “Ruby Lee,” with Yates’ stinging guitar. Next, a pair of originals written with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Gary Nicholson: “Wise” and “No Justice,” a pair of slow and torchy blues that explore various sides of lost love, especially when it involves fiery guitar solos.

The next batch of songs are classy covers of some classic blues and R&B material: “Brand New Neighborhood” (Fletcher Smith), “Always a First Time” (Earl King), “Papa Ain’t Salty” (T-Bone Walker), “No Reason” (Carmen Davis), “Qualified” (Dr. John), “It Hurts to Love Someone,” with more feisty guitar (Guitar Slim), then back with some elegant keyboard for “Wine, Wine, Wine” (Jimmy Binkley), and “Please Mr. Doctor” (Tampa Red). A swinging original instrumental, the B3-haunted “Voodoo,” tormented by an evil guitar, is the closer.

The excellent musical cast assembled here allows the entire project to float along effortlessly behind Yates’s accomplished vocals, swinging or stinging as needed. That includes Steve Mackey, upright bass; Big Joe Maher, drums; Jim Hoke, sax; Andrew Carney, trumpet; Roland Barber, trombone. Those horns, by the way, add just the right punch, and the appropriate B3 summons up deep, rolling emotions. The McCrary Sisters provide background vocals. Kevin McKendree doubles as engineer and keyboard maestro.

The album title, Buchanan Lane, is the street on which the McKendrees live and learn their art.

Buchanan Lane is also a first-rate first album, filled with the fresh music of an outstanding new talent (if you don’t count his last 15 years or so).

Here’s “No Justice’:

Tracklist:

1. Out Crowd (2:45)
2. Ruby Lee (3:45)
3. Wise (3:29)
4. No Justice (4:27)
5. Brand New Neighborhood (2:28)
6. Always A First Time (3:58)
7. Papa Ain’t Salty (2:52)
8. No Reason (2:46)
9. Qualified (4:46)
10. It Hurts To Love Someone Else (3:18)
11. Wine, Wine, Wine (2:49)
12. Please Mr. Doctor (3:56)
13. Voodoo (3:11)

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