Sunday, October 10, 1999

'Live On' breaks Shepherd from pack

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The purists who have reviled Kenny Wayne Shepherd for trying to fill Stevie Ray Vaughan's boots will have to find a new whipping boy.

        Live On, in stores Tuesday, moves the guitarist completely out of the shadow of the late Texas blues great.

        Blues remains the common denominator for Mr. Shepherd, but here he dips all the way to the early '70s. Working with Cincinnati singer Noah Hunt, the result is state-of-the-art blues-rock.

        “In 2 Deep” opens the 14-song disc with a guitar barrage and desperate lyrics — “Hard to know the devil when he looks like your best friend.”

        Just when you think it's just another KWSB album, “Was” moves in on steel-bodied slide guitar, galloping beats and masterful dynamics. Next, a cover of Jimi Hendrix's “Them Changes” stands out for Mr. Hunt's clear vocals.

        “Last Goodbye” loses the blues in an Allman-esque ballad that shows Mr. Hunt's warm side and allows Mr. Shepherd to display gentler licks.

        It's the perfect setup for the firestorm of “Shotgun Blues.” Co-written with Mr. Hunt, it's the best blues Mr. Shepherd has recorded, an Austin-style boogie shuffle.

        “Now I'm a man, baby, I ain't a boy no more,” Mr. Hunt gruffly sings. He might well be describing his bandleader's new, mature sound.

        Live On is filled with echoes of the genre-blending bands of 30 years ago. “Oh Well” covers Fleetwood Mac in its blues days, when its leader was the brilliant guitarist Peter Green. The KWSB's rocking version cuts away the original's psychedelia for a take-no-prisoners attack.

        “Every Time It Rains” is the best example of the KWSB's new direction. Bluesy, yet uncliched, it plays strong vocals against relentless rhythms and slashing slide.

        The title ballad is another stylistic leap, celebrating survival in a country melody and gospel chorus.

        The disc ends with the delicate instrumental “Electric Lullaby,” another new sound for the guitarist.

        Live On moves the KWSB in many new directions, all worth the trip.


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