Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Hard to believe though it may be, but Kenny Wayne Shepherd is already 25 years into his very well established Blues career and this new album Trouble Is 25 (released on Provogue Records on 2nd December) will only cement his already considerable reputation further.
As with most Blues records, there’s nothing much new under the sun on this album, but what there is here is thirteen tracks of very high quality music combining Blues, Rock and even a bit of Funk into an extremely enjoyable cocktail. This album’s sound follows on rather beautifully from Shepherd’s recent output and has a deliciously warm vibe that will sound absolutely killer on vinyl.
Opening with the powerfully swaggering ‘Slow Ride’, Trouble Is 25 struts down the street with its chest puffed out, its best threads on and exuding Ray Ban shades cool from every pore.
The guitar has a gloriously low-slung and down-tuned, mid-range heavy thump and twangs and bites like an angry rattlesnake in Shepherd’s inevitable solos.
This is followed up by the delightful Blues-Rock stomp of ‘True Lies’. This track features yet more of that delicious Fender Stratocaster riffing and wonderfully fluid soloing that has characterised Shepherd’s work for 25 years.
Special mention must also be made of vocalist Noah Hunt whose warm, honest and powerful vocals drive these tracks along just as much as the guitar.
Shepherd breaks out the acoustic into the mix for the slow-to-mid paced ‘Blue On Black’ which has a swampy Southern vibe and evokes visions of Southern Georgia and Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta. One can almost smell the swamp gas and river water and taste the homemade moonshine as the track relentlessly grooves to its glorious conclusion.
‘Everything Is Broken’ is the first true classic Blues track on the album. It is a mark of Shepherd and his band’s genius that they can make a track with such classic structure and melodies sound both classic and contemporary at the same time. This track is followed by the quirky ‘I Don’t Live Today’ which has a very interesting and different drum groove and guitar riff.
This shows real thought about album sequencing – take a very classic ‘old fashioned’ Blues track and then follow it with something much more unique and contemporary. There’s more than a little Hendrix influence creeping in and out of parts of this song, yet with a very contemporary and spontaneous feel.
‘(Long) Gone’ is up next and returns us to classic Blues of old. Full of shuffle drums, brittle Stratocaster and wailing harmonica, it’s another wonderful throwback to classic Blues of days gone by and has a truly killer groove which does not let up as the harmonica and guitar solos fly by. To be fair, the solos do go on a bit, but that’s the Blues, baby, and these guys know their way around their instruments so well that it’s easily forgivable.
The band stick pretty closely to classic Blues structures on the following track, ‘Somehow, Somewhere, Someway’ before a piano intro heralds the slow-mid-paced ballad ‘I Found Love’ which showcases a softer guitar sound and another irrepressible groove. Gospel vocals and Hammond organ add emphasis to the simple but effective chorus melody on a lovely track that sits in the perfect place in the running order.
The band return us to classic Blues on ‘King’s Highway’ before the funky Rock influenced and Hammond drenched ‘Nothing To Do With Love’ kicks in with another irresistible groove and a ton of space in the production allowing everything to breathe and be heard to perfection. The range of guitar tones and parts that pop in and out of this song is bewilderingly brilliant. It’s on tracks like this, where the band combines a range of styles and influences where I feel they really shine brightest and this is certainly one of this reviewer’s favourites on the album.
The funky Blues stylings return on ‘Chase The Rainbow’, a glorious romp through the classic I, IV, V blues chordal structure, but chock full of choppy funky rhythm guitar and incisive lead playing that elevates it well above the ordinary. This is followed by the wonderful title track, ‘Trouble Is’ that evokes classic Hendrix as it swaggers its way to a stunning climax.
The album closes with ‘Ballad of A Thin Man’, a smoky piano and guitar led ballad that does exactly what you’d expect of it with emotive vocals and wailing guitar searing their way over the delicately descending chord sequences while drummer Chris Layton lays down another of his remorseless driving grooves.
If you are a fan of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s previous albums, you’ll want to hear this immediately as it’s a very high quality addition to his catalogue.
To my ears, the strongest tracks are those that combine Blues with Funky Rock influences but truth to tell, the more traditional Blues tracks are excellent too. It is another very strong release and one that keeps the Blues genre firmly on the map.
There is enough of the traditional to please purists and enough that moves slightly outside the traditional formats for those of us who prefer that kind of vibe. To my ears, this album sounds like the sort of thing Jimmy Hendrix might be making in 2022 and that is a huge compliment. Very classy stuff indeed!!
1. Slow Ride
2. True Lies
3. Blue on Black
4. Everything Is Broken
5. I Don’t Live Today
6. (Long) Gone
7. Somehow, Somewhere, Someway
8. I Found Love (When I Found You)
9. King’s Highway
10. Nothing To Do With Love
11. Chase the Rainbow
12. Trouble Is…
13. Ballad of A Thin Man
Shepherd will continue to tour in support of ‘Trouble Is…25’ this fall. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit https://www.kennywayneshepherd.net/
PRE-ORDER HERE https://kwsband.info/TI-25-Collection