The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – How I Go (2011)

Posted: July 30, 2011 in Music

Fist impressions are often the most important. Just ask Kenny Wayne Shepherd. When his father (who was a concert promoter at the time) introduced him to Stevie Ray Vaughan after a performance in 1984, Kenny was mesmerized, and began playing blues guitar with a passion. It should be mentioned that he was all of eight years old at the time.

Possibly even more remarkable is the fact that he is completely self-taught – rewinding old cassettes of Vaughn, Muddy Waters and Albert Lee until he had each song down note by note. Never a lesson, never a tablature, nothing but his ear and his guitar.

By the time he was 13, he had honed his skill enough to appear on stage with New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee, and decided that the blues were his calling.

When he exploded onto the music scene around 1995 he wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink, but his style and sound was as genuine as the elder statesmen of blues at the time, and he quickly etched his place in the modern blues community. In fact, by the time he had turned 21, he was opening for the Rolling Stones. Talk about arriving…

Fast forward to 2011, and we find Shepherd still perched on the highest limb of the tree of blues arists. Set to release his sixth studio album – How I Go – on August 2nd, Kenny has composed seventeen tracks of his unique blues-rock blend that cover the entire landscape of his vast skill.

Shepherd’s anomalous range as a musician and songwriter is on grand display, as he moves back and forth from several different styles. If you were to break it apart, you really have four different kinds of music here. In fact, let’s do just that…

The album’s first track, and subsequent first single is “Never Lookin’ Back”, which is Kenny being Kenny in the most recognizable form. Strong blues guitar played in a gritty rock and roll style. It’s groovy, it’s filled with tasty riffs, and the vocal stylings of Noah Hunt are as strong and soulful as ever. The arrow strikes the bull’s-eye here, and the other “modern blues” offerings “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Round and Round,” “The Wire,” and “Cryin’ Shame” follow the same pattern and are delivered with the same accuracy.

A couple of tracks here lend themselves to more of a “soul” feeling. “Show Me The Way Back Home” and “Who’s Gonna Catch You Now?” are slowed-down pieces of perfection that really showcase Hunt’s bold, emphatic voice. The tracks are emotional and focused. Shepherd has continued to mature as a songwriter over the years, and these are spot-on.

What I feel is going to make this record stand out commercially are the handful of tracks are much more rock/radio oriented. The bluesy-guitar twangs are replaced with a more straightforward instrumental approach on “Come On Over,” “Cold,” Anywhere The Winds Blow,” “Butterfly,” and “Baby The Rain Must Fall.” Any one of them would make for great radio releases, which will probably keep this album charting well for the rest of the year and beyond.

What makes the album special for me, however, are the five tracks scattered throughout that harken back to the long lost days of the blues. Call it “old-school” or “legendary” or what have you, but the heart and soul of the blues goes back to the early 1900s, and Shepherd is mindful to pay his homage along the way. “Yer Blues,” “Dark Side of Love,” and “Heat of the Sun” all have that throwback tribute sensation to them. For me, the best of the bunch was “Backwater Blues,” a revamped version of the original classic penned by Bessie Smith song. It’s been re-done tons of times in the past, but never quite like this. Shepherd and Hunt stay respectful to the original, but add enough of their own personalities to make it fresh. A wonderful rendition of a timeless song.

Final mention goes to the energetic “Strut,” which is the lone instrumental track on the disc. Shepherd lets it all hang out here. It’s an up-tempo romp through the Mississippi back country, accompanied by brush snare and piano tickles that showcase this band as a whole. Another win.

With so many different things to enjoy here, it’s nothing short of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s strongest effort to date. What makes it accessible is the fact that you don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar in Blues Music to appreciate it. Sure, Shepherd drinks from the delta for inspiration, but this has enough of a contemporary, mature sound to attract listeners from all over.

And, somewhere, Stevie Ray Vaughan is looking down and smiling.

9/10

Tracklist:
01. Never Lookin’ Back
02. Come On Over
03. Yer Blues
04. Show Me The Way Back Home
05. Cold
06. Oh, Pretty Woman
07. Anywhere The Wind Blows
08. Dark Side Of Love
09. Heat Of The Sun
10. Round And Round (Bonus Track)
11. The Wire 3:06
12. Who’s Gonna Catch You Now
13. Backwater Blues
14. Strut
15. Buttlerfly (Bonus Track)
16. Cryin’ Shame
17. Baby The Rain Must Fall (Bonus Track)

http://www.amazon.com/How-Special-Kenny-Wayne-Shepherd/dp/B00555Z67C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311877030&sr=8-1

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