Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band | Straight to You Live | (Provogue)
4 out of 5 stars
Recorded in Germany, pre-pandemic, November 2019 for the long running European Rockpalast series, this professionally shot and recorded CD/DVD, the first of Shepherd with his full backing group, will likely be the only way most fans get a chance to experience that show.
While nothing about the concert will cause deep, organic blues fans to change their minds about not cozying up to Shepherd’s high voltage take on the genre, especially as he slashes away at his guitar during the performance’s many solos, there is no doubt he delivers electrified roots rocking with plenty of gutsy enthusiasm and the swagger of a road hardened veteran. The tour supported Shepherd’s 2019 The Traveler, so just under half the selections repeat that disc’s songs. Two horns bring a fuller sound to the six piece band that runs through their paces with a well-rehearsed sheen that is seldom slick, although clearly tightened down with a skilled hand to provide maximum bang for the buck.
Long time vocalist Noah Hunt is along to reprise the songs he originally sang on, including the hit “Blue on Black,” but Shepherd also takes the vocal spotlight occasionally, balancing out Hunt’s tougher delivery with his less throaty one. Two longer, fiery, slow blues originals, “Heat of the Sun” and “Shame, Shame, Shame,” the latter reaching back to 1995’s debut, allow the guitarist and his group to spread out on tunes that account for 20 minutes of the hour and a half show. A closing, near 12 minute supercharged cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” has Shepherd paying tribute both to the Seattle guitar icon (he injects Jimi’s “Power of Soul” riff in the track too) and Stevie Ray Vaughan who famously also covered it and whose drummer, Chris Layton, is a member of Shepherd’s top flight band.
Shepherd digs back into blues history to power up perfectly credible if certainly amped up takes on Elmore James’ “Talk to Me Baby” and Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” perhaps to quiet some of the naysayers to his more rock oriented approach. But it also proves he has an affinity for the evolution of the blues and its rawer style from decades earlier.
The video, available on DVD and Blu-ray, is beautifully shot and edited with unusually crisp clarity and the ability to put the viewer both in the audience and in the middle of the action on stage. Likewise the audio CD, included in the package, is cleanly mixed with each instrument well defined. That makes this a treat for Shepherd fans as well as those not yet exposed to his often explosive, always committed, blues rocking attack.