Album review: KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD BAND – The Traveler

Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Traveller

Provogue [Release date 31.05.19]

While its tempting to portray Kenny Wayne Shepherd as the leading contemporary blues rocker of his generation, it would be wrong to forget that he fronts a road tested band that is 100 per cent the sum of its parts.

From Noah Hunt’s lived in vocal husk to Kenny Wayne’s deeply wrought solos and a succession of uplifting hooks, the KWS band is everything you could wish for from a contemporary rock blues band that is as intense as it is musically accessible.

‘The Traveller’ continues the same musical style as ‘Lay It On Down’ and confirms the band’s ability to crossover blues to a wider audience. What’s different is the way the material pushes from a rock/blues base into soulful ballads, r&b, southern rock and a touch of country, within the parameters of real song craft.

The cross-generational nature of the band perfectly balances experience with youthful vigour in a band who bring their road tested DNA to bear on 8 self penned tracks and 2 well chosen covers.

The unwritten aim of the album is to find a succinct showcase for KWS guitar prowess. In Noah Hunt he has the perfect foil who delivers contrasting shades of both raw gut emotion and polish, while consistently bringing gravitas to his phrasing.

It’s his vocals that make the difference between a well played wide ranging album and one that grabs the listener and draws them into a mixture of lyrical imagery and pockets of emotion.

Kenny attacks his songs with real feel and different tonal inflections which take the songs up to another level, before he reveals the full extent of his abilities on the magisterial closing cover of Joe Walsh’s ‘Turn To Stone’.

His solo weaves it’s way round some horn-led bluster and Chris Layton’s crisp percussive drive on a brilliant finish to an album that successfully forges its own style.

Nashville producer Marshall Altman meticulously frames the band’s oeuvre by meshing together all the musical elements while emphasising separation, particularly on tracks like ‘Gravity’, on which Hunt is outstanding.

The album opens with a brusque vocal, horns and a straight-to-the-vein hook of ‘Woman Like You’ which is very reminiscent of the last album ‘Lay It On Down’.

It’s the perfect balance between contemporary rock-blues and a nuanced retro feel with melodic accessibility, while still kicking ass and retaining a bluesy authenticity.

‘The Traveller’ locks into a series of grooves and flows on the back of mellifluous solos. That said, the second track ‘Long Time Running’ is a departure having  something of staccato feel before it belatedly hits its stride with a tempo change and a trademark KWS solo, the velocity of which cleverly mirrors the song title.

‘I Want You’ is also a notable highlight, being built on a sledgehammer riff that evokes timeless railroad imagery. Kenny adds a muscular conversational style solo as part of a subtle equilibrium that gives this album its broad appeal. Hunt adds another effortless vocal to fill the track with a huge presence.

There’s also an significant emphasis on harmonies and a layered sound that gives songs such as the sub-waltz of ‘Tailwind’ its radio friendly feel. The additional harmonies on the second verse give the song a subtle push, as everything again flows into Kenny’s big toned solo.

‘Tailwind’ feels like an acoustic into electric updating of Bob Seger’s lyrical imagery coupled with an essential flow, a resonating hook and a defining solo.

‘We Alright’ is also a great tom-tom led groove, full of another evocative husky vocal from Hunt who sings: “Got 2 dimes in my pocket, got an old groove in my soul, you got to use it if you got it, and that’s just how we roll.”

There’s a further stylistic departure on the Southern rock influenced ‘Take It On Home’, while the cover of Neil Young’s ‘Mr. Soul’ emphasizes the Keith Richard style riff.

‘Better With Time’ is again broaden the album’s stylistic reach with a reflective soulful ballad.

‘The Traveller’ is a refreshingly song driven rock-blues album that maintains the high standards KWS band has set itself in recent years. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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