A bit of mythology surrounds Kenny Wayne Shepherd, which isn’t hard to believe considering he was only 16 when he began his recording career as a blues-rock guitarist. He’s no longer the wunderkind he was back then, but on the new album The Traveler (Concord Records), he shows that 20 years later, he’s still rocking with the best of them.
It’s pretty clear right from the beginning that he leans a little harder toward the rock than the blues on the album. In the opening track “Woman like You”, his vocals have a similarity to Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens while the melody – particularly the guitar solo – would fit in really well on any classic rock radio station. The horns and organ bring some Memphis soul to the song.
The combination of rock and soul is a running theme throughout the album. “Long Time Running” and “We All Alright” are two good examples. In “We All Alright” especially you can hear a strong soul component in the keyboards and the backing vocals. Meanwhile the piano part at the end of the song is a classic rock and roll sound. “Mr. Soul” fittingly is another song that marries rock and soul. The guitar riff throughout the song sounds like something you would hear if Neil Young teamed up with The Rolling Stones. The organ and horns provide some soul like you might hear from The Blues Brothers.
The history of recorded music is littered with songs about wanderlust and traveling. Shepherd adds one of his own in “Tailwind.” He brings down the volume and tempo in this song where the acoustic guitar comes to the forefront. He sings, “With any luck we might just catch a tailwind. Hey fellow travelers, keep traveling.” It feels more like a call to action than a suggestion. Not only that, but it makes you want to jump into your vehicle and go somewhere even if you don’t have a destination in mind.
This album is a good blend of uptempo rockers and heartfelt songs that burn a little slower. Shepherd clearly hasn’t lost any of his chops on the guitar and can deliver soulful vocals to accompany these rock n soul tunes. The Traveler was released on August 30 and is available everywhere now. Order your copy here.