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Album of the Month:The Rides’ Can’t Get Enough

 

Can't Get Enough
By Steve Hochman

Back in 2007, blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd released critically-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, a DVD/CD project that documented Shepherd as he traveled the country to jam and interview the last of the authentic blues musicians. With newly formed supergroup the Rides and their debut effort, we now see the young gun paired with veteran rock virtuosos Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg

It’s fun to imagine the scene going down something like this: Shepherd walks into a session with Stills on his axe and Goldberg on keys, straps on his Fender Stratocaster and says, “Okay old men, let’s see what you can do with this,” as he launches into Iggy Pop’s restless proto-punk anthem “Search and Destroy.”

The Rides New AlbumAnd then Stills and Goldberg, having barely broken a sweat on the supercharged song, retort by saying, “Now, whippersnapper, just try to keep up,” before blasting Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

You can picture their huge grins as the guitarists slash lines with, at and around each other while Goldberg weaves their strands together with roiling barrelhouse piano flurries — a surprisingly illuminating addition to Young’s guitar-rock classic.

However the marriage happened, it’s even more fun to listen to the results. Those two songs, iconic anthems of restless spirit, are arguably the unlikely cornerstones of Can’t Get Enough, the debut album from this cross-generational collaboration.

Rather than stand apart from the blues-rooted material that threads through the album, though, these two rockers are completely of a piece with them, and vice versa. The energy, the restlessness, mark this album every step of the way — neither unlikely nor unexpected if you’ve been paying attention to these guys over the years. It’s all there in several blues chestnuts (Muddy Waters’ buzzing “Honey Bee,” Elmore James’ flirty “Talk to Me Baby) and blues-tinged originals. By the time we even get to Iggy, we’ve already heard Stills scorching through “Roadhouse” (a look back at rough-hewn roots “playing for a bunch of college kids” at a Mississippi dive), Shepherd taking the lead on a saucy version of Big Maybelle’s 1956 hit “That’s a Pretty Good Love” and the Stills-fronted “Don’t Want Lies,” which is a bit softer in sound, but not in tone.  In addition the title and title track kinda say it all.

The latter is also one of the four credited to the three principals as a writing unit, representing the organic, fully-integrated foundation of this project. That goes for the playing, too. There are times when it seems clear which guitarist is taking the lead, particularly with Stills’ singular sting, which somehow still seems to surprise and delight with unexpected twists and turns even after all these decades. And one would assume that the bulk of the Texas-Louisiana licks on display come from Shreveport-born Shepherd. But sometimes it’s a toss-up — could be either of them.

There’s also a case to be made that despite the presence of two certified guitar aces, keys-man Goldberg is the glue that holds it all together – often the spark that sets it all off. And let’s not forget that Goldberg, the Chicago blues rock veteran via the innovative Electric Flag and so much more, was similarly the glue/spark of the 1968 Super Session album for which Al Kooper teamed with Michael Bloomfield.  Coincidentally, for side two of that album Bloomfield was a no-show to the second studio date, opening the door for none other than Stills himself.

That classic is to some extent the inspiration for this project, though where the former was arguably an unfulfilled and unfocused good idea, Can’t Get Enough is a thorough realization of the concept, a worthy-if-belated follow-up but also a collaboration that stands tall on its own merits. (Much credit also to the supple core provided by bassist Kevin McCormick — lately of Crosby, Stills and Nash — and former Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton.)

The whole thing closes with another rock cover, of sorts: “Word Game,” a Stills catalog item dating from his second 1971 solo album. It churns and burns with as much intensity as anything here. You can easily imagine again the young Shepherd being schooled by his elders — and thoroughly enjoying the exhilarating ride.

 

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