Kenny Wayne Shepherd – ‘Lay It On Down’ (Provogue/Mascot Label Group) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Phil Cooper   
Thursday, 20 July 2017 04:00

KWS - Lay It On DownWith an array of awards and accolades under his belt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has delivered another round of his southern-honed blues with ‘Lay It On Down’ his eighth solo album. 

 

Having signed a record deal at 16 years old and releasing his first album in 1996, Shepherd has had a steady and successful blues career.  Supporting the likes of the Rolling Stones and B.B. King as well has selling platinum albums along the way.  He has managed to create a wide-reaching fan base that are eager to hear the latest instalment to his catalogue.  With tracks inspired by the traditional blues muses of home and romance, what does ‘Lay It On Down’ have in store?

 

Track one side one is ‘Baby Got Gone’.  A heavy weight blues rock riff kicks off the track and provides the foundation groove throughout.  With echoes of Jeff Healey and Johnny Lang, ‘Baby Got Gone’ serves as not only an excellent introduction to the new album but also as a great taster for a new listener to Shepherd’s sound.  The framework of bass drums and backing vocals support the lyrics and lead guitar work and leave the listener in little doubt of the song writing ability on display. 

 

Tacking a turn towards the blues-funk with a tight brass section is track two ‘Diamonds and Gold’.  The brass section provides staccato punctuation to the verse sections and during the breakdown when Shepherd makes use of the wah-wah pedal, there’s some well worked call and response.  Once again there’s metronome precision from the drummer and the bass player keeping the rhythm flowing.  The guitar solo features some rapid-fire phrasing with an array of hammer on and pull offs coupled with more wah-wah.  At this point, there is a risk of the music getting lost on a trail of guitar self-gratification, however Shepherd successfully avoids getting too technical and only serves to increase the depth of the track. Certainly, the backing vocals keep the solo grounded and tie it all together further.

 

With echoes of Clapton, ‘Nothing But The Night’ features a guitar tone that would be at home on Slow Hands eighties era recordings, think along the lines of Edge of Darkness. There’s some excellent examples of the less is more attitude, with repeated guitar phrases loaded with overdrive and delay punctuating the vocals and while the initial guitar playing may come across as simple due to repetition, the way the guitar follows the vocal pattern only serves to further highlight the song writing ability of Shepherd. 

 

 

‘How Low Can You Go’ features an up tempo 12 bar rhythm which once more can comfortably draw comparison with Jeff Healey.  Touching on the classic blues lyric ideas of a woman walking out, it ones again showcase the blistering lead guitar work the Shepherd can deliver with seeming ease and comfort without overpowering the rest of the music. Sticking with the traditional blues ideas, ‘Louisiana Rain’ talks about the feelings of home and reflects on Shepherd’s home state.  It’s also one of a couple of tracks on the whole album along with ‘Lay It On Down’ that crosses over into the country blues side of Shepherd’s sound. 

 

Possibly the writing and recording in Nashville that he undertook has inevitably bled into the music that he writes. It’s certainly not a bad thing as it fits with the overall blues soundscape on offer. It also gives a chance for some big vocal harmonies to come to the fore and a clean guitar tone to augment the guitar solos.  The album closer is an acoustic version of the title track, just layered vocals and acoustic guitar. It serves as counterpoint to the full band sound that has been the order of the day so far and great way to wind up the album with an introspective feel that could easily accompany a bourbon or two.

 

If you’re a fan of blues and certainly foot stomping beer drinking electric blues then there’s a lot on offer with ‘Lay It On Down’.  As I’ve mentioned there are inevitable comparisons to be drawn with many great blues musicians that have come before and no doubt this is something the Kenny Wayne Shepherd has had to live with since his career began.  It’s not a case of copying other sounds/styles though, more so it appears that his influences come through in his playing but he puts his own inflection on the playing which sets him apart and gives him his own voice. 

 

It’s a very accessible album, following a fairly tried and tested formula of ordering the track listing in a way that provides balance between harder and softer tracks.  It’s also possible to suggest that at times the songs follow a comfortable formula as well, but at the same time there is no reason to develop a brand-new way to make the blues sonically interesting, it doesn’t need it.  The important thing is the playing and by that reasoning this is an excellent blues album.

 

‘Lay It On Down’ is released tomorrow (Friday 21 July).

 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays Ramblin’ Man Fair next Saturday (29 July) and the Picturedrome in Holmfirth the following night. He then plays the following dates later in the year:

 

Friday 27 October – Poole, Mr Kyps

Saturday 28 October – London, Indigo at the O2

Monday 30 October – Leamington Spa, The Assembly

Tuesday 31 October – Cardiff, Tramshed

Wednesday 1 November – Manchester, Ritz

 

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