We here at The BluesPowR Blog certainly don’t mind either some good ballads or all-out rockers from time to time, but the tendency of some blues-rockers to stick with much the same tempo and sound across most of or an entire album, whether putting listeners into a lull by neglecting the “rock” part of their label or failing to lighten things up from the more rocking side of the spectrum, can be somewhat of a turn-off to even the biggest of their fans. Fortunately, that isn’t something about which we usually need to worry with the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, and particularly not on the band’s latest album The Traveler (Concord Records), which again finds Shepherd & co. delivering (maybe better than anyone else these days) just the right balance of gritty and smooth, without ever getting lost too far in one direction or the other.
Filled with plenty of slick solos, these ten largely ready-for-radio tracks are sure to get your adrenaline flowing from the start, bursting out on the horns-laced, rocking grooves of “Woman Like You” and a hard-shuffling “Long Time Running”, with Chris “Whipper” Layton‘s (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) drumwork perhaps more pronounced on these tunes than elsewhere on this and other of the band’s albums, before easing off the pedal just a bit for the stomp-and-clap, Shepherd-sung “I Want You”.
That’s followed by a couple of quieter tracks in the flowing, harmony-filled “Tailwind”, on which the band encourages “fellow travelers” to hang in there with a chorus that includes “with a little luck, we might just catch a tailwind…keep travelin'”, and a midtempo “Gravity” that again finds Shepherd on lead vocals, including some of a more falsetto nature.
Things pick right back up from there with a driving “We All Alright”, featuring a jazzy piano outro, with Shepherd providing vocals as well as some stinging guitar that pays unspoken tribute to both Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Allman Brothers on the soaring southern-rock anthem “Take It On Home”.
Then comes the first of two strong cover songs in a barreling version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul”, followed by the breezy, bubblegum-rock “Better with Time”, before the album closes with a superb take on Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone” that Shepherd first performed at a fundraising concert honoring Walsh.
Noah Hunt again expertly handles the remainder of vocals on the album, with Joe Krown and Jimmy McGorman contributing some fine playing on keyboards in addition to Layton’s drums and Kevin McCormick‘s work on bass. Together, they make up one of the best blues-rock outfits on the scene today, and, while we don’t know that we can really say they’re “getting better with time” as Shepherd sings about on that penultimate track (being that they’ve been so good for quite some time now), this latest album from the band is one blues-rock fans are certain to enjoy once they “Take It on Home”!