Kenny Wayne Shepherd first entered my radar screen about two years ago with the release of his eighth studio album Lay It On Down, which I covered here at the time. Now, the Louisiana guitarist is back with The Traveler. While Shepherd’s music remains anchored in blues rock, his latest release also offers flavors of country, Southern and straight rock. No matter how you characterize it, this record simply presents fun music by a great guitarist who also proves he’s a pretty talented songwriter.
For quick background on Shepherd, I’m quoting from his website: “In a 20-year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues…At 16 years old, he signed his first record deal and burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights…In 2013, Shepherd further expanded his musical horizons by teaming with veteran rockers Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg to form THE RIDES, whose first album Can’t Get Enough helped to expand Shepherd’s audience as well as his musical resume.”
Released last Friday, May 31, The Traveler is the Shepherd’s ninth studio album. Eight of the ten tracks are originals written by Shepherd. In addition to playing guitar, he shares lead vocals with Noah Hunt, who has been part of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band since 1997. The other members include drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, a co-founding member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble; Joe Krown and Jimmy McGorman (both keyboards) and Scott Nelson (bass). The Traveler appears on Concord Records and was co-produced by Shepherd and Marshall Altman with whom Shepherd also worked on his previous two albums. Let’s get to some music.
Here’s the opener Woman Like You, a catchy blues rocker with some nice horn accents, featuring Hunt on lead vocals.
Long Time Running is another great rock tune with horns and Hunt singing lead.
I Want You combines a classic blues riff, great horn fills and a more contemporary drum sound. Here, Shepherd is also handling lead vocals. It is one of the few tunes where he is playing a more extended guitar solo, something that is largely absent on the other tracks.
On Tailwind, a Southern rock style, acoustic-oriented tune, the band is slowing things down. Once again, Hunt is providing lead vocals
The Traveler also includes two covers: Joe Walsh’s Turn To Stone and Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul written by Neil Young. As a big Neil fan, I couldn’t resist the latter. With the dominant horns, it’s a pretty cool version, in my opinion.
“I like albums to have their own identity, and I don’t want to be one of those artists where you know what it’s going to sound like before you even hear it,” Shepherd stated. “I want the new material to be original and give the listener something different. A lot of these songs represent stories I’ve picked up on the road, and the experiences we’ve had along the way.”
“The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows,” Shepherd further pointed out. “We’re a live band, and when people listen to our records, I want them to hear what we sound like when we play live. As far as my playing goes, I’m still refining my approach, and learning that it’s not about showing off or how flashy you can play. It’s about serving the song and playing what’s right emotionally. I want to move people in the depths of their souls, and to stir my own spirit. The only way I know how to do that is to get everyone recording together in the same room, and everyone’s making eye contact. That’s how spontaneous moments happen.”
Shepherd and his band are busy touring the U.S. and Europe for the remainder of the year. Most of the U.S. dates are with Buddy Guy – damn, this should be an awesome show! Some of the upcoming gigs include Flagstaff, Ariz. (Jun 8); Cincinnati (Jun 16) ; Red Bank, N.J. (Jun 18) – dangerously close to my house – and East Providence, R.I. (Jun 21). Starting toward the end of the month, Shepherd is playing a series of concerts in Europe before returning to the U.S. in late July. The full schedule is here.
Sources: Wikipedia, Kenny Wayne Shepherd website, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Facebook page, Glide Magazine, YouTube