Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How I Go - The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

It’s been seven years since the release of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s last studio album, 2004’s disappointing The Place You’re In. In the interim, he’s released a documentary-type album featuring him meeting living blues legends (2007’s 10 Days Out) and a live album (2010’s Live! in Chicago). How I Go is a welcome return to the studio for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and well worth the wait.

How I Go gets back to the band’s blues roots while displaying yet another new sound. The band sounds bigger and richer, most likely thanks to additional keyboards on most songs, a horn section, and even backup singers on a track or two. Sticking with the vocals, Noah Hunt returns as the lead singer, but there’s more singing from KWS himself. He backs up Hunt on the refrains of most songs and takes the lead in two tracks (while Hunt backs him up). In one of the bonus tracks, “Butterfly”, the two of them sing the entire song in harmony.

The album starts out with the radio-friendly “Never Lookin’ Back”, a rocking upbeat tune that is a great lead single. Noah Hunt’s seductive singing of “Come On Over” makes the second track another keeper. At this point, the album starts to bog down a little. “Yer Blues” is fine (love The Beatles, love KWS, don’t love the combo), but it’s more of a grind-style blues that KWS isn’t known for. And it sticks out like a sore thumb against the polished tunes of the rest of the album. The next two tracks are fine, but not memorable (“Cold” is the first of the two tracks Shepherd sings himself). Things get back on track with the Albert King standard “Oh Pretty Woman”, but really take off with the Shepherd-penned “Anywhere the Wind Blows”. From then on, things are golden.

“Oh Pretty Woman” isn’t the only callback to earlier blues legends. As with his other releases, there’s an instrumental tune on this one. Fans of the great Freddy King will no doubt enjoy “Strut”. And his arrangement of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” is outstanding.

In addition to the richer sound, Shepherd’s songwriting has taken a big step up. His subject matter is a bit more mature including talking about a love he knows is wrong, but can’t help himself (“Dark Side of Love”) and becoming a father (“Who’s Gonna Catch You Now” – the other track he sings). Song lyrics are best when they are like poetry and capture the exact mood the musician is trying to convey. There are a lot of great lines, but some of my favorites are from “Anywhere the Wind Blows” (“I wasn’t lost at all / I just wasn’t where I thought I’d be”). There are still some clunkers, but they work within the context of the song. In “Round and Round”, he uses the phrase “The wheels on the bus go round and round”. Fits with the tune, but it jars you out of the moment, thinking of the kid’s song.

I highly recommend getting this album, but make sure you get the Special Edition. The last of the three bonus tracks might just be my favorite song on the entire album: “Baby The Rain Must Fall”.  I have to say that I played this CD a second time as soon as I finished the first listen.  It could already be in my top 2 KWS albums.

Favorite songs: “Baby The Rain Must Fall”, “Anywhere the Wind Blows”, “Come On Over”

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