Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Straight To You Live
Unless you live in a vacuum, you probably heard that Kenny Wayne Shepherd was caught in the midst of a huge and ugly situation when he was nominated for a Blue Music Award for this album. He is the owner of a classic car collection and one of the cars is a knockoff of the original, orange Dukes of Hazzard General Lee car with a confederate flag on its’ roof. Kenny has put the car in storage and does not display it any longer, but its’ existence and the fact that people keep talking to him about it were enough to create a massive stir which eventually resulted in his award nomination being rescinded and his father being kicked off the Blues Foundation Board of Directors. In response, he recently released a fantastic new song and music video “Hit ‘Em Back” with Shemekia Copeland and also featuring Robert Randolph and Tony Coleman. All proceeds of sale of the song go to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization both he and his father have supported for decades. It is not the purpose of this review to take sides in this matter or to continue the discussion in any manner, but the plain fact is that this is the best live blues album from the past year and his skills as a blues rocker are amazing. This review will focus on that.
Joining Kenny on this new live album are his key band members Chris “Whipper” Layton of Double Trouble fame on drums, the great Joe Krown on keys and the fabulous Noah Hunt handling the lead vocals. Kenny plays guitar, sings and produced the album for Provogue, the Dutch label that features heavy blues rockers like Kenny, Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Walter Trout, Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, Leslie West, No Sinner, Eric Johnson and The Robert Cray Band just to name a few. Also appearing are Joe Sublett on saxophone, Mark Pender on trumpet, and Scott Nelson on bass. Recorded live in Leverkusen, Germany, for the famed TV show Rockpalast in 2019 while KWS was touring in support of his studio album The Traveller, it’s is a fantastic album of well-chosen and played songs and not another blues rock jam album. It’s really great stuff that shows how KWS has grown into an amazing artist.
The album starts off blazing with “Woman Like You,” a heavy blues rocker that opened Shepherd’s latest studio effort. It’s a fine song and great opener for his live act and the album. “Mr. Soul” follows, featuring a deep groove and the horn section. Shepherd shreds with taste and delivers a great performance. It’s a slick rendition of the old Buffalo Springfield song penned by Neil Young. Again Kenny dips into his newest album for “Long Time Running,” a vibrant and rocking cut with more stratospheric guitar. The horns blaze and Krown pounds out some great stuff, too. “I Want You” from the new album is next, a cool blues with Kenny fronting the effort vocally for the most part, another great original. Krown gets some deserved solo time in this one. “Diamonds & Gold” is an older original about being slaves to the almighty dollar and it’s another winner. “Talk To Me Baby” is a classic that the boys do some call and response along with the horns. It’s a party in the song. Shepherd’s guitar is sublime and the cut’s a great production number. There’s a great sax solo here, followed by an equally great trumpet solo. “Heat Of The Sun” is another old cut of his, a subtle and slick slow blues with some fantastic vocals by Hunt and guitar by KWS.
“Down For Love” is another track from Shepherd’s growing library of songs. It’s another one with a cool, driving beat and fiery guitar work. The band supports the effort well, too! He follows up with his famed ‘Shame, Shame Shame” from Ledbetter Heights, delivering some more superb slow blues. Hunt and KWS reprise their glory and Krown adds a sweet piano solo to the mix. Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” gets a nice cover here as Hunt sings passionately and Shepherd plays with both vibrance and a bit of restraint. Shepherd and Hunt return to their roots again with “Blue On Black,” another of their early classics. KWS offers up some pretty solo work here that brings us back with him to his youth. The next to last track is the old Slim Harpo favorite “I’m A King Bee,” giving it an updated blues rock take as Hunt and KWS excel at. The horns and Krown blaze once again as does Shepherd; nicely done. KWS likes to end live performances channeling his old mentor SRV with the famous Hendrix cut “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” He gives us over 11 minutes to rock out and enjoy here, the longest track on the album. Shepherd once again show us his talents are up there with his old mentor and other guitar greats.
It’s already been ten years since Shepherd’s Grammy winning Live in Chicago album and this one is on par with it from a music and quality perspective. If you like live music better on video then there is also a DVD/Blu Ray version of the show to savor. This is truly the best live blues and blues rock album of 2020. KWS is no longer the young blues protégé and burgeoning star; it hardly seems possibly that three decades have passed, but he’s still the real deal; his music and band are amazing. This one is a no brainer- go buy it and enjoy it!