Review: The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band- Live! In Chicago
In the liner notes to the forthcoming Live! In Chicago, Kenny Wayne Shepherd writes that “For years, fans have asked us for a live record.” I have never had the pleasure of seeing Shepherd and his band in concert, but if this album, which will be released by Loud & Proud on September 28th, is any indication, then I can easily see why fans have been so eager to have a live show for their listening pleasure. The two studio albums by Shepherd that I own are excellent by anybody’s standards, but this live release totally blows them out of the water.
Of course, great accompaniment never hurts and in addition to his regular touring band, which includes two members of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble, Shepherd is joined on stage by bluesmen Bryan Lee and Buddy Flett, legendary Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who is best known for his stint as the drummer in Muddy Waters’ band. That Shepherd is able to hold his own on a stage with this company is a feat in and of itself. That he still manages to be the “star” of the show is nothing short of spectacular.
Over the course of the fourteen-track album, which was recorded at Chicago’s House of Blues, Shepherd and vocalist Noah Hunt rip through five originals and nine covers by the likes of B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, and Slim Harpo. But regardless of the material what really shines throughout the record is the amazing keyboard playing of Riley Osburn and the guitar mastery of Shepherd himself, who easily ranks among the best electric players working today.
Things start off with four originals- “Someday, Somewhere, Someway,” the rocker “King’s Highway,” “True Lies,” which plays to the bands strengths with its equal mixture of blues and hard rock, and the slow blues number “Deja Voodoo”- before moving on to a rollicking version of B.B. King’s juke joint blues “Sell My Monkey,” which sounds as if it came straight out of the ’50s and features some very impressive piano work.
Next up is the slide-heavy Buddy Flett tune “Dance for Me Girl,” where Shepherd does his best to mimic Hendrix with great results, an excellent cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, Don’t Say that No More,” and the slow, sensual “Eye to Eye,” which contains some great harmonica and was originally recorded by Ronnie Earl.
“How Many More Years” is the first of several Howlin’ Wolf covers here and it is among the best performances on the album, as is the next track, the Dave Bartholomew-penned “Sick and Tired,” an old-school R&B tune that rocks with authority. Next up are two more Howlin’ Wolf tunes- “Feed Me” and a phenomenal version of “Rockin’ Daddy.”
Shepherd and company perform one more original, the mid-tempo, classic rock-inspired “Blue on Black,” before ending with the album’s best track, a hard rocking cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee,” which is loud, aggressive, and packs a major punch.
Ultimately, Live! In Chicago is a must-have for those who are already Kenny Wayne Shepherd fans, but it also has the potential to win over scores of new fans. It’s a rocking blues album with great musicianship from a mixture of legends and those who someday may be. It’s a fun, passionate document of the type of show we all wish we were at and it could be the best pure guitar album in years.
And I will definitely be checking out Shepherd and the band live sometime in the near future.