Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s second album Trouble Is, released in 1998, set up his career as a blues guitarist. His first, Ledbetter Heights, three years earlier, had laid out the territory – Texas blues, Louisiana blues, acoustic blues, electric blues – with a high-voltage performance and sold half a million copies. Not bad going for a style that was generally considered to be worn out by the mid-90s.
Trouble Is took the energy of Ledbetter Heights and ran with it, learning as it did so, earning a Grammy nomination and going platinum. Shepherd’s guitar sound was cleaner. His solos, while still in thrall to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the three Kings (Albert, BB and Freddie), and Duane Allman, were more nuanced. The songs were better too, particularly the smoky Blue On Black and the heavy opening duo of Slow Ride and True Lies coming at you with a contemporary slant
The two covers – Bob Dylan’s Everything Is Broken and Hendrix’s I Don’t Live Today – added their own pizzazz. The standard never falters either; the passion that drives Chase The Rainbow just before the closing instrumental title track is enough to send you back to the beginning.
Naturally, the blues anoraks weren’t having it, refusing to believe that one so young (Shepherd was still a teenager when he started recording the album) could possibly play the blues. Bollocks. They also whinged about his voice – without bothering to check that he wasn’t actually singing (then, as now, lead vocals were handled by long-time collaborator Noah Hunt).
Shepherd’s decision to re-record the album 25 years on is a bold one. He has reassembled the entire cast, with one exception, although the studio where the original was done, the Record Plant, is now closed. The reproduction sounds better, brighter, although how much of that is down to technology is hard to tell. There is also an additional track, another Dylan cover, Ballad Of A Thin Man, that was left off the original.
Shepherd has followed the original arrangements closely, perhaps too closely. You have to pay close attention to notice the changes. He might have done better to record a live album from the current 25th-anniversary tour and shown how the songs have developed over time. Having said that, if you haven’t got this album, this remake is the version to get.