As he enters his third decade as one of Canada’s most celebrated blues artists, Shawn Kellerman continues to find new ways to play the music that has fuelled his creativity since his early teens. He’s taken another major step forward on his latest album, Kell’s Kitchen, a 14-track collection that highlights all of his influences, with his incendiary riffing tying it all together.
From the album’s opening blast of “SKB,” “Drivin” and “Show Me What You Got,” it’s clear that Kellerman isn’t taking any prisoners. All three songs grew out of a writing trip to Texas that produced a batch of material incorporating everything from southern gospel rhythms to Jeff Beck/Jimi Hendrix-indebted funk, setting Kellerman on a path toward his most dynamic set to date.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shawn Kellerman album without contributions from the many friends he’s made over the years. On “We Are Blues Men,” his former employer, two-time Grammy winner Bobby Rush, makes a notable appearance, while Jason Ricci—hailed as “one of the ten greatest blues harmonica players of all time”—shows off his skills on the slow-burning “You’re Gonna Learn From This One,” as well as two others.
Kellerman says, “I love collaborating, and I definitely wanted other people involved on a bunch of songs. On the other hand, I wanted to push myself to write as well. Lots of things were in my mind while putting this album together, from the different grooves I wanted, to lyrics drawn from things that have happened in my life, some of them serious and some funny.”
Kellerman specifically points to the song “Down By The River,” a rootsy track he was inspired to write during his first trip to Greece, along with “Bad Mamma Jamma,” a collaboration with his wife, and “Mac & Cheese,” made with his longtime friend, Michigan blues artist ZOOM. The album also contains two specifically chosen covers: Little Milton’s “Livin’ Off The Love You Give” is a tribute to an artist Shawn grew to admire during his time living in the southern U.S., while a funky remake of The Guess Who’s “Runnin’ Back To Saskatoon” offers a tip of the cap to one of Canada’s great bands.
It all adds up to an album that Kellerman has seemingly been building up to since he first picked up the guitar. Raised in Kitchener, Ontario, he was encouraged by his parents to play blues, particularly his father who ran Kitchener’s famous Pop The Gator club. Through that connection, Kellerman was quickly taken under the wing of the legendary Mel Brown, and by the late ‘90s, he was ready to hit the road, moving to Mississippi when he began his stint with Bobby Rush. Still more experience lay ahead when he was invited to join Lucky Peterson’s band, which boosted Kellerman’s already healthy touring schedule to close to 200 nights a year.
Along the way, Kellerman launched a solo career that’s led him to receive many honours at home in Canada, and forge strong bonds with other Canadian blues artists such as Paul Reddick and Carlos Del Junco. It’s a passion for all aspects of the blues that has kept pushing his sound in new directions.
“I spent eight years touring, recording and co-producing records with Lucky Peterson before he passed away, and I wanted Kell’s Kitchen to reflect his work ethic, and how he approached a song,” Kellerman says. “I learned so much from him. No, I do not play like him or have his voice, but I hope his energy and power comes across in my music. As we recorded this album, I wasn’t happy with a take until it felt the same as when I was playing with him in the studio or on a big stage.”
Anyone who has ever seen Shawn Kellerman on stage can certainly attest to him being a force of nature with a guitar. Still, as he’s matured, Kellerman has evolved into a well-rounded player with an understanding that the blues can be interpreted in countless ways. Kell’s Kitchen is unquestionably Shawn Kellerman’s best album to date, and arguably the best any Canadian blues artist has made in recent memory.
“I still think about watching my mentor Mel Brown, who had songs in his repertoire that ranged from traditional blues to pop, rock and funk. I’ve tried to keep that in mind my whole career, and the older I get, the more I want to experiment with different genres. The blues will always be at the core, but mixing in other sounds—whether they come from Europe or Africa or the U.S.—will hopefully lead to something original. With Kell’s Kitchen, I want people to hear what I have heard through my experiences traveling to 46 countries with different artists.”
Photo Credit - Alex Rodriguez Cruz
In Spain 2013
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