"Never Lookin' Back," the opening track to Kenny Wayne Shepherd's first studio album in seven years, and his studio debut for Roadrunner, is a contradiction because he does exactly that, at least musically. Last time out, the guitarist experimented with a more alternative rock sound in hopes of broadening his audience. He sang lead for the first time and co-wrote all the material with new producer Marti Frederiksen (Buckcherry, Papa Roach). Not only was the album unsuccessful artistically, but the blues-rock fan base he had acquired during the previous decade stayed away in droves. Not exactly the plan. Shepherd must have been keen to win that audience back, first by releasing a 2007 live album featuring collaborations with blues legends, and now by calling back producer Jerry Harrison, leather-lunged singer Noah Hunt, and husband-and-wife songwriting team of Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, all of whom were key players in his initial flush of success. He even employs drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, Stevie Ray Vaughan's old Double Trouble crew, to send a clear message to those alienated by his last studio disc that he has returned to a more rootsy, bluesy, and driving style. That's emphasized on the tough, riff-driven lead cut, and strong covers of the Beatles' "Yer Blues," the Albert King standard "Oh Pretty Woman," and Bessie Smith's "Back Water Blues." While guitars are prominent throughout, it's the ironclad originals -- co-written with Selby, Sillers, Zac Maloy, and Danny Tate, all with instantly memorable hooks -- that will remind the once faithful of the good old pre-2004 days. Some of the slickness that had occasionally plagued his work is in evidence here, especially with the keyboards, overdubbed guitars, and occasional backing vocalists, but in general, this is a solid, enjoyable outing that should have followed 1999's Live On. Ballads such as "Show Me the Way Back Home," with its gospel organ and soaring guitar solo, and the Hendrix/Trower vibe of the grinding "Heat of the Sun," are some of the finest in his catalog. Hunt, who sounds remarkably similar to the Smithereens' Pat DiNizio, sings with sweaty passion and commitment. His performance shows that Shepherd should never have tried to take his own lead vocals. The closing "Strut" gives the guitarist a chance to open up on a Freddie King-styled instrumental with real teeth. [Four additional tracks on the "deluxe edition" are well worth the few extra bucks, with the tough, Vaughan-ish shuffle of "Cryin' Shame" and the driving "Butterfly" being particular standouts.] This is Shepherd's finest, most focused release, and an impressive return to form.
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz