25 years after their first studio release, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band puts its own stamp on a year of unprecedented events by releasing their first-ever concert video Straight To You Live. Unable to complete a full tour in support of 2019’s chart-topping album The Traveler, Shepherd and company share an outstanding two-hour set from Leverkusen, Germany, reminding listeners that the crew remains one of the premier acts in blues rock.
The set leans heavily on The Traveler, and the first four songs of the concert nearly mimic the recent album’s opening slate. Bursting into “Woman Like You,” the band energetically showcases the new additions to their repertoire. Shepherd’s penchant for breathing new life into old staples is on full display during his instrumental run through Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” and he treats his own songs in a similar fashion, always adding new twists to his playing.
Though his name sits atop the marquee, Shepherd avoids turning the event into a vanity project by sharing time with the other six members of the band. On songs that hew closely to traditional blues structures like “I Want You,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” and Elmore James’s “Talk To Me Baby,” the supporting cast receives nearly as much instrumental space as Shepherd himself, and their contributions loom large throughout the show. Keyboardist Joe Krown and the brass tandem of Joe Sublett (Saxophone) and Mark Pender (Trumpet) set tones, carry riffs, and partner for call and response segments that give the incredibly full mix its heft. Scott Nelson’s bass drives the pulsing rhythm on the uptempo numbers and Chris Layton is outstanding as always.
Often mistaken as the voice of the headliner himself, Noah Hunt continues to amaze with his surreal ability to meld with Shepherd’s guitar, as he has for over two decades. Getting better with age, his performances on “Heat Of The Sun,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Blue On Black,” and “King Bee” sparkle.
The album builds strength upon strength. With its many sections and changes, superb guitarwork both subtle and explosive, and extended runtime, “Heat Of the Sun” vies for best of set. Other high points for this author include “Turn To Stone,” for its huge finish, and “Voodoo Chile,” for absolute guitar bliss. However, a listener could easily fall in love with the menacing “King Bee,” or the timeless “Blue On Black.” There are no weak tracks or even off moments.
Expertly produced, the recording finds the live-in-concert sweet spot that eludes so many other attempts at capturing a performance faithfully, without sacrificing quality. Crowd noise is audible but not distracting, and the mix preserves the individual members’ contributions without sounding sterile, or cherry-picked. Admittedly, the band makes this rather easy through their nearly-perfect set. A ten year gap between official live offerings is a long wait, but the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band has always chosen quality over quantity. True to form, Straight To You Live stakes its claim as a candidate for best live album of 2020.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Woman Like You
– I Want You
– Heat Of The Sun
– Turn To Stone
– Blue On Black
– Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)
The Big Hit
– Heat Of The Sun