|Kenny Wayne Shepherd - 'How I Go' (Roadrunner)|
|Written by Russ P|
|Tuesday, 16 August 2011 05:15|
I guess that Kenny Wayne Shepherd's last full studio album "The Place You're In' didn't go down too well with his fans because he's back, 7 years later (with only the detour of '10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads' released inbetween), with his follow up studio album which is again drenched in the familiar and traditional blues that first gained him recognition as a teenager. It's a pity. I liked his last album. It was more rock, less blues - arguably more him as he was singing on most of it. Also it was more experimental and more ambitious. So it's with a somewhat heavy heart that I come to 'How I Go'.
Lead single 'Never Lookin' Back' is a brawling barroom boogie of The Georgia Satellites' variety. It's a lively stomper but somehow leaves me cold. I've heard it all before and I didn't much care for it the first time around.
'Come On Over' is another proposition altogether. It's got a huge riff reminding me of Stevie Salas, Eric Johnson and Eric Gales. The chorus perhaps gets overly poppy - especially when contrasted with the darkness of the verses - but that's okay with me. This is one of the reasons why I like Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He's at his best when he detours slightly from the restrictions of the blues by coming up with some seriously catchy songs.
'Yer Blues' sounds like another blues standard but, against the odds, I'm not hating it. I suppose because it sits very firmly in classic Hendrix mode with Gary Moore-ish vocals. You could be forgiven for forgetting that this is in fact a Beatles cover - surely the Beatles version didn't sound like this? Well...it didn't - KWS forces it right back into the blues standard category with a heavier version that all but dispels any notion that it was a Beatles song to begin with. And for you blues guitar aficionados out there - this is the track where Kenny smokes at length. Shepherd's guitar playing has undeniable tone and flare. Guitar World has him behind only Eric Clapton and BB King in its list of top blues guitarists. He can surpass Clapton for all I care but BB King? I hope not.
'Show Me The Way Back Home' sees Kenny sit back and let main vocalist Noah Hunt take centrestage with a slow melodic ballad that is a nice change of pace whilst the solo is carved up between himself and a Procol Harum-esque organ.
'Cold' is one of the best songs on the album and guess what? It has Kenny back on vocals. It's a tight, choppy and bouncy number featuring a great rhythm guitar figure. But it's followed by the standard blues fare of 'Oh Pretty Woman' which puts 'Cold' down as a something of an anomaly on the blues landscape.
Or should that be the other way around? Because after 'Oh Pretty Woman' things start to look up again. 'Anywhere The Wind Blows' - has the southern fried flavour of Lynyrd Skynyrd and has a catchy chorus tied and doubled to a cool riff.
But the rollercoaster ride continues with 'Dark Side Of Love' which, despite having the positive of being 'very BB King', has the net effect of ploughing straight back into full standard blues fare.
'Heat Of The Sun' is a brilliant burning ballad though. Gritty and sensitive at the same time. Juxtaposing searing guitar tones with soft soulful female backing vocals. It sports the classic vestiges of Ben E King's 'I (Who Have Nothing)' which is never going to be a bad thing. 'The Wire' is a satisfying higher tempo chugger that may still have a foot in the blues but places the other firmly in high tempo happy clapping soul.
'Who's Gonna Catch You Now' immediately has an Extreme 'More Than Words' stripped down melodic feel to it. It's a good tune. Albeit, in the context of this album, a little schizophrenic. Again it's Shepherd on lead vocals here. If I were a single-song-downloader instead of an album man it would be the songs on which Shepherd sings that I'd be downloading.
'Backwater Blues' starts off with some traditional and vintage sounding piano and transforms into a Stevie Ray Vaughan blues shuffle which sounds doubly true when you find out that Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton make up the rhythm section.
Album closer 'Strut' however is somewhat of a disappointment as it really does go one step further into illustrating my frustration with the blues as formulaic and monotonous 12-bar pointlessness. This is one jam that should have been left as a warm-up to the real and main event.
For all my reticence in listening to the blues I find 'How I Go' is still highly listenable - as anything done well would be. And Kenny Wayne Shepherd sure knows how to do it well. Undeniably he's a great guitar player with superb tone and an ear for a good commercial tune to boot. I'd love to hear another album with his vocals at the fore but I'm not going to hold my breath as I think that eventuality is a real long shot.