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Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Live! In Chicago

Roadrunner Records

14 tracks, 75.15 minutes

Kenny Wayne Shepherd was, of course, one of the teenage prodigies of the 90s who, alongside Jonny Lang, brought in a new wave of young blues players, many influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan. After the initial success, Kenny experienced a few leaner years but his last project, the CD/DVD “10 Days Out” brought him a high level of acceptance within the blues community. Now comes his first live CD, recorded during that tour, and featuring his excellent band: Chris Layton on drums, Scott Nelson on bass, Riley Osbourn on keyboards and Noah Hunt on lead vocals. This concert was recorded in Chicago at The House Of Blues. In effect the CD splits into two parts: 6 tracks feature the KWS band and there are four guests who each have two tracks.

enny’s second CD “Trouble Is” (1998) provides no fewer than four of the six band performances, with one song from his debut CD and a cover of “I’m A King Bee”. The CD opens with the triple whammy of “Somehow, Somewhere, Somehow”, “King’s Highway” and “True Lies”, all of which are rock tunes with a strong blues influence. Kenny’s guitar playing throughout is excellent (check out the solo on the first track where I could swear there was a rhythm guitarist present) and the backing of the band first rate, especially the vocals of Noah Hunt whose gravelly tones recall classic rock singers such as Paul Rodgers. “Deja Voodoo” follows with Riley Osbourn’s piano underpinning Kenny’s guitar beautifully on a slower, moody piece from “Ledbetter Heights”.

First guest is Buddy Flett with whom KWS played as a teenager. First tune is “Sell My Monkey”, made famous by BB King and played here as a classic shuffle. The interplay between the two guitars is excellent and it is interesting to see how well KWS adapts his style to suit a different type of blues. Indeed, throughout the guest sequences this is a feature of his playing that demonstrates what a fine player he has become. The second is a Buddy Flett original “Dance For me Girl” that KWS has apparently contemplated recording before on one of his own albums.

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is the next guest, playing harp and singing on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby Don’t Say That No More” and his own composition “Eye To Eye”. Perhaps it’s the harp introducing the shuffle of the first song, but you immediately feel immersed in Chicago blues here. “Eye To Eye” is the classic Muddy Waters sound, a slow blues with lots of harp and a rousing solo from KWS at its centre.

Next guest is Bryan Lee, another player who gave the young KWS the chance to perform live. Now KWS returns the favour on Wolf’s “How Many More Years” and a rocking slice of New Orleans in “Sick And Tired”. Some tough guitar playing on these two tracks!

Final guest is the great Hubert Sumlin who does one of his own compositions “Feed Me” which is a fast paced rocker with some references to Highway 49: you can debate which of the solos is the wilder, Hubert’s or KWS’! The second Hubert selection is, inevitably, a Howling Wolf song and the choice is “Rocking Daddy” as it features one of THE riffs for which Hubert is rightly renowned.

After ably demonstrating his ability to blend in with classic blues performers the band closes the concert with Kenny’s atmospheric “Blue On Black”, arguably his biggest hit to date and “I’m A King Bee”, written by James Moore but most associated with Muddy Waters. This rocked up version of the song makes a barnstorming finale to an excellent concert.

I suspect that a DVD version will follow at some point but this CD is well worth a listen, both for some exhilarating guitar playing from KWS and for the appearance of some of those who most influenced him as he was developing. As KWS is on the LRBC in January I am now even keener to see him live!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He recently attended the Blues Blast Awards in Chicago and had a great time! Back in the USA for the January 2011 Blues Cruise!

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