There's a tendency for many whippersnapper guitarists to be gushingly enthusiastic about showing off their newfound riffs and licks. They jump up and down the fret board, fingers flaying everywhere, frantic and desperate to make their mark as the latest Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix or whoever. But like most things, good technique usually comes with age and is about knowing when to hold back and when to go hell for leather; only then can they become the ultimate fret-board Casanova.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd was once such a wunderkind, stepping out in the 90s with blazing guitar solos, ready to set the world alight. Now in his forties, KWS has taken the breaks off and adopted the less is more approach. This restraint he shows on The Traveler makes the album better for it. His solos reflect the song, expanding the lyrical elements and generally enhancing the song rather than playing for the sake of playing. On The Traveler the song is king and the band are the faithful servants.
Given this space KWS now takes his share of the vocal duties alongside usual KWSB front man Noah Hunt. Like his guitar playing, his vocals have also grown in stature thanks to Steven Stills' careful pushing. Vocally he appears more relaxed and confident in his abilities, it's hard to think that he's shied away from the mic for so long. Taking a larger share of the vocals adds texture of the album and allows each song to have the right narrative voice: from rock to country and blues, they've got it all covered.
The album kicks off with a song glorifying women in relationships, a characteristic of KSW's work. Soft rock track, Gravity, continues to extol these themes, even if things get complicated along the way. Tailwind's romantic Americana structure is another example of a more radio friendly sound that is present on the album. The blues base still runs through the album, but it's injected with a Southern rock energy and an ear for a top notch melody.
There's two cover versions tucked away at the end of the album: Buffalo Springfield's Mr. Soul and Joe Walsh's Turn To Stone. As with all the best covers, the tracks seamlessly slot into the ten track album.
With age comes a less egocentric approach and KWS certainly has the skills, now he's ready to enter a new phase where his main focus is the song and diligently keeping the blues alive.
Groupie rating 4/5