It’s been nearly 25 years since Kenny Wayne Shepherd burst onto the music scene. In that time he has covered a lot of territory and has firmly established himself as not only an amazing guitar player, but also a compelling songwriter. With the release of The Traveler, it’s evident that Shepherd has grown comfortable with his musical evolution. Joining in are long-time collaborators Noah Hunt (vocals), Chris “Whipper” Layton (drums), Kevin McCormick (bass), and Jimmy McGorman and Joe Krown (keyboards). Adding to the mix are Joe Sublett (saxophone) and Mark Pender (trumpet).
It’s often hard for a band that makes its living on the road to bring that same intensity into the studio; however, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band is able to capture the spirit of their live performances throughout The Traveler. The opening track “Woman Like You” sets the tone for the record with a confident rock steady groove and swagger from a band that is clearly firing on all cylinders. For further proof one need only listen to the incendiary cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul.” “Long Time Running” and “Gravity” showcase a slow heavy groove that hits hard and deep reminiscent of Gov’t Mule.
Of course Shepherd’s guitar playing is front and center throughout The Traveler. Like fine wine, his tone has aged gracefully. Unlike many talented guitar players, Shepherd doesn’t try to be flashy but uses his talents in the service of the song, a lesson learned through years on the road. “Take It On Home” showcases this as he plays with the kind of feeling that cannot be faked. His playing is perfectly matched to the lyrics. Shepherd’s bread and butter, though, is the blues and “I Want You” highlights his love and respect for the genre, the music that clearly informs his playing.