Review: Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s ‘Straight To You: Live’ Goes Beyond a Live DVD Experience

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band have been on an uphill trajectory in recent years and following the release of their #1 blues album The Traveler in early 2019 and a canceled world tour due to COVID comes their debut live concert video Straight to You: Live.

Recorded at Germany’s Jazztage Festival, Straight to You: Live is Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s first live album in over a decade and it could not have come at a better time. In a year where live music is being missed by millions of people across the globe this is the perfect substitute. 

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s energy is vibrant and radiates through the screen, this hour and a half performance goes beyond a live DVD experience, it almost feels as though you’re there in the audience.

Photo courtesy of Jon Bleicher/Prospect PR

With Chris ‘Whipper’ Layton on drums, Joe Sublett on saxophone, Mark Pender on trumpet, Noah Hunt on vocals, Joe Krown on Keys, and Scott Nelson on bass this band is the crème de la crème and it becomes increasingly clear why as the video begins. 

The performance features a broad selection of songs from Shepherd’s catalogue, beginning with “Woman Like You.” The onstage feeling is stiff to start with, but Noah Hunt’s sturdy lead vocals are just as strong as they were in the 90s and carry the track through. 

Second song “Mr. Soul” sees the horn section bring a spirited onstage atmosphere and with that the heat starts rising. While Shepherd can be a little rigged onstage his solo reminds us just why he’s so revered. 

A guitar swap later and on track four, “I Want You,” Shepherd is finally behind the mic for a lead vocal performance. Crying out “Do you want me? Baby, baby, baby like you used to do?!” KWS impresses with his gorgeous and powerful tone so much so that it’s a wonder he doesn’t tell Noah to take a run for it and step into the front man role once and for all. 

The band’s dynamic is tight, and the yearning on the song is felt strongly. Kenny calls out ‘Take me home baby” before launching into a solo that’s drenched in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s influence. Once the keys solo ends and the sax solo bellows in, it’s evident that the blues is in abundance and the rest of this live DVD is going to be HOT. 

Looking like a MythBusters host and playing like Junior Walker on steroids, Joe Sublett is not messing around – His solo hits the spot from the moment it wails in, and when Mark Pender takes over on trumpet it becomes even more clear that these guys are the best of the best.

The remainder of the concert consists of a cover of Elmore James’ “Talk to Me Baby” which yet again sees the sax and trumpet solos take the performance to new heights. Pender and Sublett are the epitome of class and talent and are truly the standouts of the DVD, aside from Layton’s bold wardrobe choice which steals the show at many an interval. 

Following ‘Talk to Me Baby is a sprawling 11-minute take on “Heat of The Sun.” By this part of the set things have peaked. KWS’ guitar and Hunt’s vocals lament together, leading into a beautiful and tasteful solo that showcases Shepherd’s ability to take it down a notch and play less notes with equal feel. As the solo builds and his guitar weeps, this is Kenny Wayne at his most emotive and finessed. 

For the tail end of the set the band go back in time to Shepherd’s 1995 debut record to play a nine-minute version of “Shame, Shame, Shame.” The band then throw it right back to the late 1950s and ’60s to end the show with a bang by covering Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” followed by an epic rendition of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which lets KWS go a little wild and tap into his inner Jimi. 

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band complement each other perfectly, slip into each other’s pocket with ease, and put on one hell of a show. This is the blues at its classiest, and at times its sexiest. With a team of some of the greatest musicians on earth together on stage, it’s easy to conclude that Straight to You: Live is exactly what the blues is all about! A live concert video that lightens up the darkness of 2020 even if just for 90 minutes. 

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Straight To You: Live – Out November 27th
1. Woman Like You (Live)
2. Mr. Soul (Live)
3. Long Time Running (Live)
4. I Want You (Live)
5. Diamonds & Gold (Live)
6. Talk To Me Baby (Live)
7. Heat Of The Sun (Live)
8. Down For Love (Live)
9. Shame, Shame, Shame (Live)
10. Turn To Stone (Live)
11. Blue On Black (Live)
12. I’m A King Bee (Live)
13. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Live)

*Feature image: Screengrab of ‘Straight To You:Live’

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