Soul Renegade is the first solo album in over seven years from Ken Valdez. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, he currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and for this release he pulled some of his friends in to help record. His own words describe this album the best. “It is a collection of songs that allows the listener to know my past, present and gets a glimpse of my future. I was fortunate to work with some great people and this record is the best I’ve done yet. I’m damn proud of it.” As he very well should be.
The title track, “Soul Renegade” opens things up. One of the great people that Ken had the chance to work with is Doyle Bramhall II, who co-wrote this soulful tune. “Rio Grande Blues” is a strong blues rocker where Ken’s rough and tumble voice shines over a powerful rhythm section. His first guest, powerhouse player Chris Duarte, shows up to lay down some licks on the boogie blues of “Sugar Shakin’ Boogaloo.” With a little southern swamp intro, “Make It” is an all-star packed track features Hazel Miller (Big Head Todd and the Monsters), Michael Bland (Prince), Paul Peterson (Peter Frampton, Steve Miller Band, The Time). The hefty low end jam gives Ken room to stretch out his fingers and show that he’s just as good as any of his guests with a great guitar solo. It pairs his vocals against the spectacular counterpoint of Hazel Miller. Eric Gales steps in on the guitar as the guest and things take decided funky Stevie Wonder vibe on “Sometimes.”
The R&B groove is delivered on “Far From Gone” which was co-written with Curtis Salgado and also features fellow Twin Cities native Ricky Peterson (John Mayer, Prince, Bonnie Raitt) on the B3 organ along with some more great background vocals from Hazel Miller. “Detroit Iron” is a tribute to cruising in a classic old Caddy. Ken turns the rock vibe back up on “Final Season” with his aggressive vocals and some tight guitar work at the end. The real highlight of this album though is the absolutely superb cover of the late folk singer Mike Jordan’s “Whiskey and Water.” You can just imagine the interior of the watering hole that they are hanging out in. While Ken waxes professes his love for his favorite song he strums the acoustic and Greg Jennings (Restless Heart, Vince Gill) lends his slide guitar to give it that distinct country feel. It is simply a superb cover of a criminally underrated song. While Ken is clearly a blues rocker there is no reason that this shouldn’t get picked up on every country radio station around. Ken then thanks his “Angels” with a little bit of a gospel tinged rocker for keeping him above ground. An up tempo rocked up cover of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” firmly plants Ken’s flag as a blues rock artist to keep an eye out for.
After years as a side man for the likes of his mentor T-Model Ford mixed with the occasional solo album release, on Soul Renegade Ken has achieved a diverse mix of songs that showcases for all of us his excellent vocals and guitar playing that makes his fellow musicians refer to him as the “best kept secret” in the blues.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Make It
– Far From Gone
– Whiskey and Water
The Big Hit
– Whiskey and Water
Review by Kevin O’Rourke