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Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band ‘The Traveler’ Review

Released by: Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group, Concord Records

Release Date: 31st May 2019

Genre: Blues-Rock, Americana


Album Line-up:
Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Guitars / Vocals
Noah Hunt – Vocals
Chris “Whipper” Layton – Drums
Bass – Kevin McCormick
Keyboards – Jimmy McGorman & Joe Krown

1. Woman Like You
2. Long Time Running
3. I Want You
4. Tailwind
5. Gravity
6. We All Alright
7. Take It On Home
8. Mr Soul
9. Better With Time
10. Turn To Stone

The highly anticipated new album from Kenny Wayne Shepherd has caused much of a buzz recently, not only in the blues camp but also in the hard rock assembly with this exciting collection of crossover tunes. Already a well-respected and fully established guitarist (he began his career back in 1995, bursting onto the blues scene with his platinum selling debut, Ledbetter Heights), this Louisiana born songsmith brings together his group of world-class musicians and creates something magically raw and organic with some outstanding production.

How the album came about was quite unplanned and spontaneous, of which Shepherd says “Making this album was an interesting process. I was home for a few months and I wanted to spend some time with my family and not do any work for a while. But then we had a run of ten shows on the West Coast, so I figured, while I’ve got everybody out there, let’s be productive and make another record”.  I feel this impulsive, unforced experiment really shines throughout the whole album with a positive outcome.

‘The Traveler’ erupts with the pounding feel-good anthem “Woman Like You”, which is so infectiously hard-rockin’ it’s impossible to sit still to. Guaranteed to lift the lowest of moods with a sunshine vibe and a face-melting Strat solo to boot. Track two is titled “Long Time Running” which has an interesting tempo change, starting off with a soulful almost ‘big band’ edge, building to a harder crescendo and moving back again, keeping the listener engaged with more epic guitar work.

 “I Want You” is a sultry, smouldering number with strong hints of Stevie Ray Vaughan (not a complete surprise as KWS cites SRV as one of his main influences and incidentally, drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton was a former member of Stevie’s band Double Trouble). The next song “Tailwind” is a brooding country ballad, the lyrics from which give the album it’s title and imagery, “ Hey fellow travelers, keep travelin’ ” smoothly croons vocalist Noah Hunt. Of the title, Shepherd explains “We’re all travelling together through this thing called life. These are testing times for us as a society, and it seems to me that it’s been a bit crazy in the world lately, with so much division. Without making any kind of political point, it’s like, ‘Let’s get through this together, appreciate one another and not always be trying to fight”.

“Gravity” is a complete alteration in sound – a melodic, melancholic pop love song with some stunning harmonies and heartfelt lyrics. With the pulsing stomper “We All Alright”, not only does KWS share the vocal responsibilities with Hunt (Kenny on chorus and Noel taking care of the verses), the rest of the band have a clear opportunity to shine here with some powerful drumming from Layton, a catchy bassline from McCormick and some awesome honkytonk keys in the outro. Kenny credits Stephen Stills, his bandmate in supergroup The Rides, for pushing him to do more vocals, a pleasant touch that brings freshness and surprise to this current album.

“Take It On Home” is an atmospheric Southern rock melody with descriptive lyrics about the place and people he calls home. Kenny is a true family man with a wife and five kids, you can’t help but sense a heartfelt nostalgic glow from the warming words of this sweet song. The next track is a blazing cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr Soul” which came about when Shepherd played it at an impromptu performance along with Stephen Stills and Neil Young at an autism benefit concert.  Brought to the listener with fresh passion and vigour, it fits in perfectly with this collection of raw energy fuelled songs.
“Better With Time” is a mellow singalong summertime tune – a charming interlude before the grand finale, which appears in the form of another cover version, Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone”. This track was caught in the studio in just one take to give the feeling of a live recording. Shepherd states “The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows. 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”, and I do think this album has captured that intrinsic nature perfectly. Overall a hugely enjoyable, relatable collection of great songs to satisfy the traveller spirit in everyone.

Ratings: 9/10

Written by: Caroline Blood – Staff Writer

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