Last year I was walking down Bourbon Street on my way to meet a friend when I was stopped in my tracks by a distinctive blues guitar sound. I walked into the club and there was Kipori Woods delivering a sleek, flashy solo that stood out from the rote-copy-band music of Bourbon Street like a diamond in the gutter. I had lost track of Woods and was struck by how instantly recognizable his style was. It’s nearly impossible for a young blues guitarist not to sound like a past master anymore, as almost every conceivable way of playing electric blues guitar has been fully plumbed. Most young guitarists stay away from blues playing for this very reason unless they insist on plowing the Stevie Ray or Buddy Guy terrain for its own sake. But Woods showed up in 1999 with the self-released Blues Man from Down South and followed in 2000 with his first Louisiana Red Hot release, the impressive Big Black Cadillac. The pair of albums allowed Woods to lay a strong claim to being the future of New Orleans blues guitar.
Blues Gone Wild is the much belated follow-up to Big Black Cadillac. It should have been released six years ago, but like so many other musicians, Woods lost his house and part of his life in the federal flood. Now that he’s got himself back together, Blues Gone Wild is a welcome, if not entirely complete, update. “Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On,” once a staple, sounds dated now. It’s the only cliché on the album, but since it opens the proceedings it could give some people the wrong impression about Woods.
The rest show Woods to be his own man, deftly wielding a range of blues tropes for maximum impact. Aside from 10 originals, there’s a rarely heard Earl King cover, “Ya Mama.” King’s trademark riff closes out each verse, but Woods brings his own personality to the solos.
Woods sticks to basics, concentrating on well-turned melodies in service of lyrics that cover the blues waterfront and offer fast-paced showcases for his soulful vocals and high-intensity guitar playing. “Rolling Man” showcases Woods at his best, playing a fast-paced shuffle, celebrating life on the run with a saucy vocal and gunslinger solo passages. “Playing My Axe” is a more Albert King-style statement of purpose featuring some great playing with a touch of wah-wah for texture. “Get on the Floor” shows off his rhythm-guitar playing in an old-school R&B mode, while the road song “Full Circle” sets up one of the album’s best solos.
The album includes a bonus track, “Back in New Orleans,” a diaspora saga whose uptempo rhythm backs up Woods’ vow to “have myself a ball.” It’s a bit of a strange fit on an album of electric blues, because it sounds like Woods is accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and there’s no solo. But if you take this track on its own, you can see that Woods is actually a more developed singer than he was six years ago. If you’ve seen him live recently, you know there’s more new material as well. I’m betting his next album will be the breakthrough effort, but Blues Gone Wild is a strong place holder for a unique New Orleans voice.