Sound: Kenny Wayne Shepherd fans should be aware that his latest release isn't necessarily what you'd expect. 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads is dedicated more to the legendary musicians -- including the remaining members of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf's bands -- and Shepherd is merely a small presence. Even thought that might freak out Shepherd's fans, the latest CD is a huge success in terms of delivering the purest form of blues.
The 2-disk CD/DVD is a fantastic chronicle of the blues, and through most of the journey (which hits everywhere from Kansas to Louisiana) Shepherd bows out of the limelight. It's both a gutsy and highly respectable thing for Shepherd to do. Instead of hearing new material from the young blues guitarist/vocalist, he instead gives the stage to some of the biggest influences in his life. The result is a soundtrack to his roadtrip visiting some of the greatest blues musicians in history.
One of the most memorable performances comes from Clarence Gatemouth Brown, a bluesman who Shepherd claims became a sheriff just to carry the gun. You can hear the honesty pouring out of his song Born In Louisiana, but it goes a lot further than that. He plays the guitar, the violin, and tackles the vocals in the same song with absolute ease. The man is around 90 and is just as confident onstage as any young bad out there today. During Brown's performance Shepherd plays rhythm guitar, but anything else would have seemed almost like upstaging. Shepherd deserves credit for letting Brown do what he does best without any interference.
If you're hard-pressed for time, go straight for the DVD. It's a documentary featuring Shepherd's trip across the country to play with some of his greatest influences. Shepherd offers brief commentary during his travels, but it's really bluesmen like B.B. King and Clarence Gatemouth Brown that will make the biggest impression. It's just a phenomenal site to see Shepherd studying every move that King makes when he's playing his solo to The Thrill Is Gone. The two guitarists eventually trade solos back and forth, making it easily one of the best moments in the DVD portion. // 10
Lyrics: You don't get more heartfelt and honest than a blues lyric, and 10 Days covers a lot of ground in the genre. There is a beautiful simplicity in blues that isn't heard much these days, but there's plenty of humor along the way as well.
Got My Mojo Working by Muddy Waters, arguably one of the greatest blues musicians ever, shows up on Shepherd's CD. While you might think that feelings of melancholy will always be present in a blues song, Waters proves this idea extremely wrong. Pinetop Perkins takes over the vocal part on the CD and sings, I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand; I'm gonna have all you women right here at my command. If you ever wondered where rockers got their sexy onstage struts, listen no further.
There is still plenty of heartache heard on 10 Days, with B.B. King's The Thrill Is Gone being easily the quintessential blues song. All in all the songs on the CD cover a lot more ground topic-wise (not to mention humor) than many contemporary recordings. // 10
Overall Impression: Kenny Wayne Shepherd is obviously known for his guitar prowess, but it's the heart behind his music that really comes to the forefront in 10 Days. While he has a few solos thrown into the 15-song CD, the focus is very much elsewhere. Hearing him work with such a wide variety of blues performers is a worthwhile experience, even if you haven't picked up any of his records in the past.
When it comes down to it, the CD is dedicated to bluesmen (and women) like B.B. King, Etta Baker, and Cootie Stark. You might not know most of the names listed on the playlist, but you definitely will not forget the cast of characters. And for blues lovers? Shepherd's 10 Days is a CD/DVD is as much of an unforgettable history lesson as it is a fantastic listening experience. // 10