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Kenny Wayne Shepherd: a new king crowned

In the month BB King left hospital after his latest health scare, it’s inevitable we should seek a successor to the cherished 89-year-old's throne.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd has met, played with and opened for King, and although modesty would prevent him from claiming a place in its ranks, this native of Shreveport, Louisiana, is among the pack feted for such responsibility.

At just 37, Shepherd already has five Grammy nominations and for the guitarist’s most recent album, 2014’s Goin’ Home, the likes of Warren Haynes, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Robert Randolph and Keb’ Mo’ happily accepted guest roles. KWS is also a member of the supergroup The Rides, along with Stephen Stills.

But it’s not strictly about age. You’ve either got it or you haven’t and within a song or two it becomes unmistakably apparent that Kenny Wayne belongs in the former category.

It helps that he has a solid line-up around him, including Noah Hunt, a specialist, mic-tossing frontman in the Paul Rodgers vein, with whom the guitarist has worked for the past 18 years. Ex-Willie Nelson keysman Riley Osbourn has also served his time, whilst the drummer is none other than Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble fame, who flies home from here to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. No wonder they are, somewhat comically, introduced as Kenny Wayne Shepherd And The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.

This gifted line-up makes the difficult things look simple. Layton barely appears to break sweat, and although Shepherd knows how to throw all of the shapes, few of the set’s 18 songs (19, if you consider that a medley of BB’s Woke Up This Morning (My Baby’s Gone)/You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now should constitute a pair) descend into mindless, gratuitous fret masturbation.

There is, however, plenty of high quality guitar work. Just like his Provogue Records label-mate Joe Bonamassa – who is, coincidentally, also 37 – Shepherd is classified as blues but has hard rock music running through his veins.

At encore time, Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well becomes a headbanging, devil horn-flicking behemoth. The Empire goes wild, though on a curmudgeonly note, one can only speculate upon whether they’d have done it quite so emphatically had fifty per cent of the set not been based on crowd pleasers from Jimi Hendrix, SRV, Bob Dylan, Elmore James, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and the rest.

Whatever… watch his star continue to rise.

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