At forty years old, Kenny Wayne Shepherd represents a younger generation of blues musician who, whilst reverent of those who have gone before, has made great inroads bringing his own unique style and interpretation to a timeless genre. Releasing his first album at the age of eighteen, Kenny Wayne Shepherd achieved the remarkable feat of going gold within a year and the album, ‘Ledbetter Heights’ subsequently turned platinum in 2004. If the success went to Kenny’s head, it never showed. Humble, passionate and inordinately talented, he has sought out and collaborated with the legends of blues (’10 days out: Blues from the backroads), joined a band with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg (The Rides) and released eight albums, each one different, with the latest being the stunning ‘Lay it on down’. In stark contrast to 2014’s sublime ‘Goin’ Home’, ‘Lay it on down’ is an album of original songs and Kenny is playing with fire from the moment the opening riff of ‘Baby got gone’ (also the album’s single) detonates.
For those who’ve followed Kenny, the unveiling of ‘Baby got gone’ signified an album of electric blues, coupling Kenny’s fiery guitar licks with the insanely catchy melodicism of King King. It’s hard to pick out the song’s high point – you could point to the hot-wired riff that leads the track, the rich keyboard lines (Jimmy McGorman) that sit neatly between guitar and drums or the soulful vocal – but, whatever you choose, you’ll be hard pressed to get the track out of your head for days to come. With a funky vibe, the sublime horn section and soulful vocals of ‘Diamonds & gold’ is a hard driving song nailed by a taut beat (Chris Layton) and rock solid bass (Kevin McCormick). Kenny tackles the funky groove perfectly, but underneath the playful exterior you’ll find scintillating leads that drip with charisma. Another track with endless chart potential is the bouncy ‘Nothing but the night’, a track in which the whole band deliver a ferociously tight performance. Deceptively simple, ‘nothing but the night’ boasts a killer hook and, in a perfect world, it’d be sitting at number one for an eternity. The album’s elegant title track, ‘lay it on down’ is a change of pace that tells of long summer days sat out on the porch with an iced bucket of beer and a guitar in the hand. With just a hint of pathos and a country edge, ‘lay it on down’ is a beautiful song that wraps its arms around you, offering protection in an uncaring world. The first half of the record concludes with the initially acoustic-driven ‘she’s $$$’, a track that draws on the likes of Buddy Guy for inspiration and, between Chris’ hard-hitting beat, Noah’s pitch-perfect vocal and Kenny’s electric leads, ‘She’s $$$’ is an album highlight that will make you move no matter how many times you hear it.
A track with a strong country vibe, ‘Hard lesson learned’ opens with Jimmy’s sensitive piano work and a liquid slide guitar that weeps gently over the body of the song, all of which leads to a climactic solo and richly harmonised finale. The band whip up quite a shuffle on ‘Down for love’, the sort of song that you can imagine providing the soundtrack for a spontaneous dance number in a fifties diner. Similar in feel to the first Rides album, ‘down for love’ is definitely another highlight. That irresistibly danceable vibe carries through into the electrifying ‘how low can you go’, Noah Hunt’s vocal as irresistible as the pounding beat, playful keyboards and frantic guitar. In stark contrast, the beautiful ‘Louisiana rain’ pays a heartfelt tribute to Kenny’s home state with its thoughtful lyrics, subtle harmonies and restrained guitar work. The album proper ends with the rocky ‘ride of your life’, a hard-riffing finale with a ZZ Top vibe and an energy that perfectly suits the song’s title. However, a bonus still awaits fans in the form of ‘lay it on down (acoustic)’. Arguably even better than the electric version, this acoustic rendering of the track rings even more emotion out of the band and offers up a sweet coda to the record.
Recording live to analogue tape, Marshall Altman (alongside Shepherd) has drawn every ounce out of the band’s electrifying performance and captured it perfectly for the album. Best heard on vinyl, this is a record of depth, light and shade and it sounds pretty much perfect. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is an artist who continues to grow and his love for the blues as an art form remains undimmed. ‘Lay it on down’ is a rare treasure that maintains Kenny’s flawless body of work. 10