Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
There are a very small handful of exceptional guitarists in the Blues world that are consistently on their game and who make music that appeals to a crossover audience while remaining true to their roots. Kenny Wayne is right up there in this elite group and has further cemented his credentials with this stunningly good live album and DVD collection. In the absence of live gigs, this is a happy reminder of the visceral energy that is created by a cooking live band, particularly for fans who caught him on his last visit to the UK at this time last year.
With his regular touring band augmented by a two-piece horn section, this collection of songs is given an extra shot of brass driven adrenalin, as well as providing regular fans something different to the studio versions they probably know inside out. For newcomers this is a good way to find out what this Strat wizard has to offer. With a set list including stand out numbers from his excellent ‘The Traveler’ album (which the tour, from this performance in Leverkusen, Germany, was promoting), along with selected highlights from his impressive back catalogue, this is a “best of” non-stop musical ride that doesn’t slow down for the bends.
It’s powerful song after powerful song, no faffing around, no taking a breather. He has always had an ear for a melodic and memorable song from way back, ‘Blue on Black’ being a classic example of this (and which naturally features towards the end of the set). ‘The Traveler’ is undoubtedly his most commercial offering to date and continues the trend of catchy Blues rockers. The first three opening songs (the ones that as a photographer in the pit for those first few numbers completely pass you by while you grapple with the lighting and those technical aspects like taking the lens cap off and avoiding rib damage from sharp elbowed fellow snappers), all come from that album.
‘Women Like You’ and ‘Long Time Running’ came out of the traps in jaunty fashion and are over in the blink of an eye. It’s on a stonking version of ‘I Want You’ that the band start to stretch out over nearly 8 minutes of pure class with KWS letting rip with the sort of rapidly flowing solo lines and rasping tone that is so reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The calm figure of Joe Krown on keyboards has a nice organ solo on this. It has to be said that the accompanying DVD is beautifully shot with multiple camera angles switching the perspective continually to recreate the live vibe.
This really helps to bring the music alive; not only is this an opportunity for us guitarists out there to see what KWS is up to as he burns up the fretboard, but a reminder of how much he sings backup to the excellent Noah Hunt on lead vocal (is there a better front man and vocalist on the Blues scene than him?), as well as taking centre stage on vocals himself occasionally. It also reminds you that Chris Layton is back there on the drums, looking seemingly like he has lost a drumstick and found a plectrum (but playing a dream of course).
KWS’s playing is supremely good throughout; it’s a masterclass of Blues guitar playing by someone who, despite his age, has been around for a long time and is showing off everything he’s learnt from all those hundreds of shows over the years. There are no filler tracks. I particularly enjoyed the traditional Blues of Willie Dixon’s ‘Talk To Me Baby’ and Slim Harpo’s ‘King Bee’, which rattles along like a firecracker, the horns playing those short two note stabs during the verse, that are just glorious.
The set ends with live staple ‘Voodoo Child’ by you know who, extended over 11 and a half pulsating minutes. You’ve heard it a million times played by everyone, but alongside Jimi and SRV’s brilliant performances, this is the killer version that you can’t tire of, despite excessive familiarity. It rounds off the set superbly. Stick this collection on your Christmas list - Santa’s going to be delivering a sackful of these on the big day despite international travel restrictions - you won’t be disappointed!