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Kenny Wayne Shepherd - How I Go (Special Edition)

Roadrunner Records

17 tracks - Time: 75:43

On his last studio release in 2004, blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd decided to go in a different direction. By taking over the majority of lead vocals and seeking mainstream acceptance, he puzzled and alienated his fan base. Surely a musician whose best playing cards was in the blues-rock formula didn’t want this game plan to happen.

In an attempt to rebuild his career, he wisely released the 2007 CD/DVD package Ten Days Out, a documentary capturing Shepherd playing with old masters of the blues, some of them now deceased. Live! In Chicago released last year continued the same momentum showcasing Shepherd jamming with legends such as Bryan Lee and Hubert Sumlin.

Now with the release of How I Go, Shepherd seems more intent than ever to return to the blues rock roots that were his claim to fame in the first place.

The biggest boost to morale is having long time vocalist Noah Hunt singing on many of the tracks. His deep throaty vocals have always been the perfect fit for Kenny’s driving guitar work. But it’s the choice of material that drags this record across the finish line.

Some solid covers are thrown into the mix. The Beatles’ “Yer Blues” certainly wallops a helluva slam more than the version originally released on The White Album. And although “Cold” sounds like a tune attempting to garner radio airplay acceptance, it’s still passable with Hunt’s impassioned singing. Opening cut “Never Lookin Back” is a good choice as any to open an album infused with the muscular blues rock that catapulted Shepherd into the spotlight when he was a teen-ager.

With a special edition cd featuring 17 tracks, there is some filler that could have been left off. While “Cold” is a rocking ballad, it sounds best suited for the MTV era of the 80’s. The best injection of energy is saved for “Anywhere The Wind Blows,” the roots rock cousin of “Blue On Black” that rocks its way into an ominous sounding “Dark Side Of Love.” The vibe gets amplified further in “Heat Of The Sun” with Shepherd wrenching emotional dripped notes seeking retribution from sin.

Enlisting his old song-writing team of Mark Selby and Tia Sellers, whose work was of great help on past albums, proves a god-send. Even better is having drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tommy Shannon, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section play on the tracks.

Though the production can veer off into slickness that borders on overkill, Shepherd achieves a healthy balance on the material at hand. With How I Go, Kenny Wayne seems to be marking an evolution of how his music will progress from this time forward.

Of course when Shepherd tries his hand at the bluesier material he when we love him the most. You don’t find too many artists covering Bessie Smith. So when Kenny takes on “Backwater Blues,” he unveils an Elmore James spirit into his riffing that robs from “Dust My Broom.” And hearing “Strut” is the next best thing to Clarence Gatemouth Brown with its Texas signature beats.

This record would have been the logical follow-up to 1999’s Live On. At this juncture, Kenny encountered detours, personal and musical, that seemed to be derailing his career.

Seemingly Shepherd has resolved these issues. While How I Go may not be his strongest effort, it still contains some worthwhile blues-rock that makes you replay some of the tunes over and over. And if something like that is happening, then it’s indicative that Kenny is getting back on the right track. Let’s hope he can get on a roll and not take too long between releases from this point on.

Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.

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