Album Reviews

Music You Don't Know You Like Yet

KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD

LIVE! In Chicago

2010-11-15

For a while back in the 60s and 70s, blues was kind of treated as an ugly stepchild. During that period, several artists carried the torch until the rest of the music world woke up from their hairspray-induced coma and rediscovered the blues. The two most prominent were Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray. On their heels came child prodigies Jonny Lang, Shawn Colvin, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. While each has grown up in the blues arena, Kenny Wayne Shepherd seems to stand out as the torch bearer of his generation. This guy (and his kick-butt band - Noah Hunt, Chris Layton, Scott Nelson and Riley Osbourn) can play any type of blues you can think of – witness his most recent release, Live! In Chicago, recorded in the legendary House of Blues. Right from the getgo we get treated to a raucous “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway” and “King's Highway” (penned by KWS). “True Lies” is another Shepherd creation, and all three songs seem to carryover from the Stevie Ray Vaughan genre (which they should to some extent, since Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon were originally with SRV's Double Trouble band). Judging by the audience response, I think Kenny and his band just raised the bar! From the beginning to the end, the album is full of excitement and energy. The Band is really "into it", and the crowd is definitely loving it. It gives you one of those "almost like being there", feelings. The live performances allow the band to stretch their respective talents, and stretch they do! Elsewhere throughout the album, we get treated to some of the legendary Chicago session men, as well as former members of Howlin' Wolf's Band and Muddy Waters' band. Right here is where I have to say that this is one of the “I can't believe I am not there” albums. “Deja Voodoo” starts off soft and slow, then builds to a riveting and rocking crescendo – I almost got up and clapped with the audience! One thing I can definitely state is that this collection of artists (Buddy Flett on guitar, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on harp, Hubert Sumlin on guitar, and Bryan Lee on guitar) DO NOT play backup! These guys each make significant contributions to the entire concert – from the mournful harp on “Eye to Eye” from Wille Smith to Hubert Sumlin's hot licks on the tight-as-a-drumhead “Feed Me” and on to Buddy Flett's swinging shuffle licks on B.B. King's “Sell My Monkey” (and reprising Buddy Flett's “Dance For Me Girl”). I have to say that I have listened to this cd over and over, and I cannot find a disappointing song. All I can say is that if you don't go out and get a ticket for this LIVE! In Chicago cd, then shame on you! --- Nick

ARTIST BIO First off, Kenny Wayne Shepherd was 33 years old at the release of this album, so he’s not a kid playing hot guitar anymore, he’s a grown man doing it. And he does play a hot lead guitar -- that, in a nutshell, is what he does. But over the years he’s also learned that the blues isn’t just about blazing lead licks, it’s also about letting the song say its say -- and on Live! In Chicago he does that. This is a concert full of songs and not just a bunch of guitar leads broken up by someone singing for a bit. Shepherd is also fully aware of the history of the blues and he honors some of his heroes here by playing with blues legends like Hubert Sumlin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Bryan Lee and Buddy Flett and he doesn’t step all over them with his guitar playing -- he supports them. The concert grew out of the tour Shepherd put together in support of 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads project, a DVD/CD documentary that featured Shepherd traveling around the country on a ten day trip interviewing and playing with icons from the blues world, including the surviving members of Muddy Waters' and Howlin' Wolf's bands, making this show, recorded at the House of Blues in Chicago, a kind of culmination. It’s all crisp and sharp, full of fine keyboard work by Riley Osbourn and, of course, stinging guitar from Shepherd, but there’s a lot of love and respect here, too. This isn’t just about the blues -- it’s about living to play it. The whole disc is really of a piece, but among the highlights are a jaunty version of B.B. King's "Sell My Monkey," the blues ballad “Deju Voodoo,” and the scorching take on Slim Harpo's “I’m a King Bee” which closes things out. This isn’t a live album from some teenaged savant -- it’s an album from a grown man proud and honored to be playing the blues with some of his heroes. It also rocks.

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Compiled by the WYCE Journalism Club

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