Kenny Wayne Shepard Band – The Traveller (2019)

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This is Kenny Wayne Shepherds ninth studio album, and it’s great.  It might not appeal to all readers of this site – it’s not hard rock, certainly not metal, but it does contain some elements of rock and definitely more than just a sprinkle of blues.  It is however, well worth a listen for those that appreciate stepping outside of their comfort zone, and lending their ears to something unfamiliar to them.  And long time Kenny Wayne Shepard fans, it will absolutely appeal to you..

The Traveler opens up with Woman Like You – a boot stomping, thoroughly enjoyable, and infectiously catchy number – that will have you moving along to the rhythm, whether you like it or not.  Tremendous guitar solos are a staple of Kenny Wayne Shepard’s work, and you won’t be disappointed by the solo here.

Long Time Running is more of the same.  Catchy as all get out with a big band feel, and something just a little grittier in the overall scheme of things.  I Want You kicks in with a stomping rhythm and some exceptional blues guitar.  Brass instruments are used to really add an emphasis here, and again, the end results are wonderful.

Tailwind takes us toward country rock territory.  Jangly guitar and a beautiful vocal melody really makes this piece shine, while on Gravity, we go towards something that could be very radio friendly.  The rhythm section does a great job through the album, but The Traveller is definitely driven by guitar and vocals.

We All Alright delivers another catchy, bouncy track rooted in the blues with a touch of honky tonk vibe.  Again, the guitar work is brilliant.  Take It On Home slows the pace for a country tinged love ballad.  The order of the tracks on this album really doesn’t give you the opportunity to get bored – no two tracks are similar, and the album works perfectly for it.

Mr Soul takes the bones of The Rolling Stones smash hit “Its Only Rock N Roll (But I Like It) and builds it into a rollicking huge tune for 2019.  Pounding rhythm runs throughout, the lyrics are all brand new even if the inspiration is obvious… But I like it!

Better With Time is the track that stands out to me the most.  It’s smooth blues rock for a summer day.  Driven by guitars as usual, with some exceptional vocals, more brass accents throughout – the highlight of this album for sure.

Final track, Turn to Stone, is the longest on offer, and it gives up a taste of everything that came before it.  It’s a tremendously epic track, featuring maybe the most awesome lead guitar work of the entire album.  It really makes me happy when a record goes out on a high, and The Traveller does just that.

With a career that spans near on three decades, Shepard continues to release fresh  music that is relevant to the time.  I would say that The Traveller is one of his best releases within the pantheon of his discography.

8/10

Review by Shayne McGowan

Kenny Wayne Shepherd “The Traveler”

I’m pretty new to these music review shenanigans, so I follow a routine – work through the list of albums in order – no skipping through it to do the ones I want to do.

Kenny Wayne Shepard was next on the list. Rrriiiiggghhhtttt… I guess that I had better prepare myself for his truck breaking down, his dog dying and his partner leaving him for his best friend…

I realigned my Darkcell “Hail Satan” shirt and reminded myself to not hate this music immediately. I noted that were 10 tracks on “The Traveler” and it meant that I had to get through 46 minutes.

“Woman Like You” hums forth with a pronounced swagger. Like the title suggests, it’s about love and desire. It features skilful guitar work and during the track, it simplifies and then pulses, building expectation. The vocals are clear and engaging and the track is upbeat in nature.

“Long Time Running” opens faster and has a similarly swanky sound. The vocal harmonies are excellent and the music is even richer for them. The guitars are strong and diverse in sound, being powerful without being overpowering. The use of horns add drama and the track finishes abruptly, leaving you hanging, but wanting the next offering.

“I Want You” is another track with love as the central theme. It had me nodding along, eyes closed, lost in the bluesy sound. I gave it to my fashionably aloof 19 year old daughter to listen to and she described it as “snazzy” and immediately downloaded the album onto her interweb machine. The track features intricate guitar work that is fresh and clean, with horns and keyboards deeply augmenting the sound. The vocals take a back seat as the track saunters to the end.

“Tailwind” has an acoustic opening and is a terrific counterpoint to the previous track. It’s more relaxed and its simplicity is soothing. Country music roots are evident and the lyrics speak of the difficulty of leading a complex existence. Clever guitar work and vocal harmonies are again cornerstones of this music.

“Gravity” has a guitar opening that draws you to it. It’s a calm and slow track where the vocals come into sharper focus. It features clever vocals that comment on a complex relationship between two people.

“We All Alright” has a more than alright keyboard opening and the track is rich in blues swagger. This track highlights the synergy of the band, where their combined work is greater than the sum of their parts as musicians. It is positive and towards the end features piano in a jam-like arrangement that rings out to finish the track.

“Take It On Home” has a slow, reflective opening and country music influences are in evidence, particularly in the vocals. We’re all familiar with this style, making it easy to engage with.

“Mr Soul” covers a Buffalo Springfield song and it has a big band sound, including the vocals. If The Rolling Stones made a country/ blues track, it would sound like this one. The track speeds up unexpectedly, grabbing your soul in the process.

“Better With Time” signals it’s time for a change in pace and sound, partnered with powerful and emotion charged vocals. It’s a comfortable track.

“Turn to Stone” is a Joe Walsh cover and it takes an unexpected turn, opening with one guitar, then another wails in over the top. The more you listen to this music, the more you hear – there’s often much going on in the background, from momentary points of interest to momentum building arrangements. This track slows, then builds and thickens. I was marvelling at how awesome folks are, particularly during the guitar solos. It reminded me of Prince and his ability to make the most of every moment when playing guitar. The ending of this track is superb, serving to put an emphatic full stop on a great album.

One of the things that impressed me about this album is that there aren’t any duds on it. There are a range of different styles on the album, but no discernible down points.

The musicianship of the artists is of an impeccable standard and they seem to be comfortable playing together. They combine under a powerful banner: clever lyrics; themes that resonate with the listener; exquisite guitar work; interwoven musical arrangements; and a track selection that flows dynamically from the start to the finish of the album.

You could argue that it is “predictable”, given that each track has a familiar sound, but it certainly didn’t follow what I predicted at the outset. It’s music about positivity, struggle, life and love, delivered in an accessible and powerful manner. These are the songs of everyday people and as such, will be timeless in their appeal. It caught me by surprise, dispelling the reputation on this genre.

One of the lyrics pricked my ears, saying, “Jump on in, the water’s fine.”

It is indeed fine. Immerse yourself in this record.

8/10

Review by Greg Noble

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