There’s a classic rock station where I live that tends to play the same songs over and over, and one of those is Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 1998 single “Blue On Black.” As it just so happens, ole KWS has a brand spankin’ new album called Ten Days Out: Blues From the Backroads, so now I guess I have at least one more new song to eventually get tired of.
On second thought, maybe not, as right from the get-go Ten Days, a 15-track disc with accompanying DVD, sets itself apart from Shepherd’s other three releases--it has the same signature blues-rock riffing, but with a more vintage styling compared with his previous works. The album is supposedly a culmination of songs Kenny has wanted to cover for some time, including tracks by some prominent artists who may be lesser known outside of the blues community.
Most notable is the rhythm section of former Double Trouble bandmates Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris Layton (drums) who, of course, made their money backing Kenny’s main influence, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The best part of these songs is that KWS actually hit the road with Shannon and Layton in tow for 10 days to track each one of the original artists down and record right in their hometowns. No posh studios or overproduced production values here--just a bare-bones sound that adds value and believability to convey the emotion of the material. This was made possible by Kenny setting out in ’04 with a portable studio and going straight to the source to capture the iconic blues artists before they left this world for the Great Delta in the Sky.
This effort pays off big, as proven by such songs as the toe-tapping electric boogie of “Tina Marie” (with Bryan Lee) and the more subdued “Honky Tonk” (with Buddy Flett), which give textbook examples of how blues music should be played.
Not to be outdone by any means, the then-93-year-old Etta Baker’s “Knoxville Rag,” recorded in the middle of her own kitchen, shows her nimble guitar fingers still had it after all those years. Speaking of guitars, B.B. King and Lucille show up in B.B.’s hit “The Thrill Is Gone,” as KWS takes a backseat to let one of the masters shine in the limelight. Then comes the blind Cootie Stark who, with a one-armed harp player named Neal Pattman, shows vintage form on “Prison Blues.”
From the groove of George “Wild Child” Butler’s “Spoonful” to Henry Townsend’s atypical “Tears Came Rollin’ Down,” Ten Days gives blues fans a near-definitive who's who collection and pays a glorious homage to artists who helped shape a truly American genre of music.
Sadly, a handful of these artists, and I use that term with more reverence than ever, have since passed on. Lucky for us, Kenny gives generations a well-deserved and well-done time capsule to remember the greats by, whether listening to the disc or watching the recordings on the DVD. Do yourself a favor: buy this now and get schooled on the blues, and let it transport you away to the bayous, porches and smoky clubs that give this music a vibe unlike any other. And you, Kenny Wayne Shepherd? Well done, man.
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