Ten Days Out: Blues From The Backroad

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Reprise, 2007

http://www.kennywayneshepherd.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/24/2007

Make no mistake -- this is not a Kenny Wayne Shepherd album. It is a history of the blues.

Oh, Shepherd's name may be above the marquee, but that's only a formality. The point of the 10 Days Out CD and DVD project was to discover the blues in its natural habitat, played by mostly unrecognized people who made it famous.

Blues is very much a basis for rock music, yet only purists really know about the importance of those black artists (sure, everyone knows Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson, but how about Henry Townsend, Pinetop Perkins and Etta Baker?). So Shepherd, who has been playing the blues for a little over a decade with some commercial success, took Double Trouble's rhythm section (yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan's former band) with him and sought these venerable artists out.

The result is a cross of studio and live tracks and is consistently electrifying, moving and solid. Those expecting guitar histrionics will not find them; the blues players here take center stage, with Shepherd relegated to the background, and the result is a strong set of songs that live and die by their credibility and their sound.

And what a sound! The pounding acoustic guitar of "Honky Tonk" will turn on both blues and country purists -- once they get past the ramshackle opener "Prison Blues." Those expecting the sort of lengthy guitar solos that white-boy bluesmen like Eric Clapton employed will find them on "The Thrill Is Gone," but the solo is tastefully done, never taking center stage or overshadowing any other element - the way it should be. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Tina Marie" is a rollicking good time, followed by "Born In Louisiana," a Delta blues-type number given loud 2007 production, putting the listener right in the front row of the show (which could very well be on a back porch or the local bar). It and many of the other songs don't break new ground with the blues, but since many of these artists pretty much invented the genre, that's fine. These songs are simply all performed loud, well and with no trace of boredom or familiarity -- as if these veteran artists (five of who died before the disc came out) were discovering their music for the first time.

Of course, any genre that has been around for seven decades can get old, so not all of the songs are on part with each other; "Chapel Hill Boogie," a heavy inspiration for ZZ Top's "Tube Snake Boogie," doesn't reach the level of excitement as the rest, while "Tears Came Rollin' Down" is decent, though one should bear in mind that the 96-year-old Townsend takes center stage here, yet can still rock. "Red Rooster" fails to really take off the way the others do as well.

A cool aside is the two-minute "Knoxville Rag," performed by the 93-year-old Etta Baker; the piece is fun and ends just in time. "U-Haul" is a late album highlight, a basic two-chord blues augmented with a driving rhythm section and many acoustic guitars, one performed by song composer Cootie Stark, who also died before the disc was finished. The song would be find as it is, but Stark improvises a minute-long rap over the end. He also was blind, by the way.

Two songs normally associated with Cream, "Sittin' On Top Of The World" and "Spoonful," come near the end of the proceedings. Both are better than Cream's version but neither are particularly great on their own merits, save for Willie Dixon's powerful vocals and the swinging rhythm section of "Spoonful."And understandably but somewhat anti-anticlimactically, the disc ends with the eight-minute "Grindin' Man," a slow blues that should have been moved up higher in the order.

No matter. Calling this music blues is kind of a misnomer; it has the chords of blues, and the lyrics, but very little of the feelings one normally associates with this genre. This makes it a joyous listen, a discovery into what makes both rock and blues great. Shepherd's name may be on the disc, but it's not about him -- it's about the blues veterans, and here they get their due and more. A fine listen.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.