The new release from the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band is perfectly titled as The Traveler truly brings its listener on a journey through the American South. Kenny has been serving up his take on the blues for nearly 25 years. A purist at heart, Shepherd has never shied away from expanding traditional blues to include modern elements and melodies. The Traveler continues that evolution by deftly moving between blues sub-genres to include rock, country, and soul.
There is a musical trail that can be traced through the American South that brings you from the swamp sounds of Louisiana to the Muscle Shoals-style horns of Alabama, the guitar soul of Memphis, and finally the country vibes of Nashville. Each of these are represented on The Traveler. The record kicks off with “A Woman Like You”, a foot-stomping trip to the Louisiana bayou that showcases not only Shepherd’s guitar but the amazing voice of longtime partner Noah Hunt.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the record is the extensive use of horns. Tracks such as “I Want You” use an upfront horn section to punctuate Shepherd’s guitar and show that even after all this time Shepherd and his band can still give the listener something new. Even with an expanded use of horns, don’t think for a minute that Shepherd’s guitar takes a back seat. The Memphis soul-infused “Better With Time” and hard rocking “Long Time Running” show that he is still one of the top players on the scene today.
The final stop of the journey is the country flavor Nashville. On their last release, 2017’s Lay It on Down, the band showed a slight country side with the title track. That sound is revisited here with the beautiful “Tailwind” and taken even further with “Take It on Home”, which could easily find a place as a Song of the Summer candidate on country radio.
Kenny and his band have always sprinkled in covers of traditional blues songs, but on The Traveler they made a few interesting choices. The first is a simply incendiary version of the Buffalo Springfield classic “Mr. Soul”. In the hands of these incredible musicians, the song is turned into a heavy guitar driven rocker dripping with horns that bears only minimal resemblance to the original. The second cover, Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone” closes the album. This is more of a straight cover that sees Hunt polishing some of the edges of Walsh’s original vocal.
The core of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band, Kenny on guitar and vocals, Noah Hunt on vocals and Chris “Whipper” Layton on drums stays the same and are joined by bassist Kevin McCormick and keyboardists Jimmy McGorman and Joe Krown. While the musicians have remained, there was a change behind the scenes. Shortly after the release of Lay It on Down Mark Selby, frequent co-writer on most of Shepherd’s records over the years passed away. While The Traveler contains some of Selby’s work it finds Shepherd collaborating with new writers to great success.