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Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Lay It On Down (Album Review)

Friday, 28 July 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

When Kenny Wayne Shepherd began writing for ‘Lay It On Down’, his eighth 'solo' record, his aim was low on ambiguity and high on ambition. He wanted to put the emphasis on songwriting and produce his best music to date. After the dust settles around this splendid concoction of melodically lustrous, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, one thought immediately leaps to mind: mission accomplished.

His name may be synonymous with blazing guitar work, but Shepherd has always been a gifted writer and, latterly, singer. Over the course of 20-something years consistency has been a key element in his work. He’s never made anything close to a bad album and, in fact, continues to improve.

In contrast to 2014’s ‘Goin’ Home’, a superlative trad blues covers record, ‘Lay It On Down’ is a killer combo of self-penned material that is uplifting, contemporary and intoxicatingly catchy.

Vitally, for an artist this far into his career, it’s also stylistically varied, integrating fresh new flavours into the mix to produce an album that’s easily identifiable as a Shepherd work without resembling anything he’s done before.

Nothing But The Night boasts the kind of misty moonlit atmospherics you might get from a 1980s AOR song, but is very soulful, possessing a unique groove, vivid imagery and a wonderful chorus. Diamonds And Gold, meanwhile, captivates thanks to tasty pumped-up horns, Memphis R&B vibes and verses that, although sung, have a rhythmic flow that almost seems like Shepherd is rapping as he chastises those chasing money and fame. 

Elsewhere, Hard Lesson Learned’s soaring country balladry is a thousand times more heartfelt than you get from most of Nashville’s modern cookie cutter acts and we’re treated to a sumptuous slice of Americana on autobiographical gem Louisiana Rain. These excursions enrich Shepherd’s usual style in a very organic way, adding depth to the album’s pleasing assortment of emotional moods and affluent storytelling.  

Besides, there’s plenty of blues-rock brilliance in the form of scorching opener Baby Got Gone and the spring-heeled buoyancy of She’s $$$, where Shepherd’s licks and Noah Hunt’s vocals engage in a classic call and response dance. Down For Love is this album’s vintage Stevie Ray Vaughan moment and unleashes a guitar solo so incendiary Shepherd’s fretboard may have been immolated in the process of recording it.

These songs cohere wonderfully due to their exceptional radio-friendly hooks, thanks in no small part to Shepherd and Hunt’s resplendent harmonies. They split lead vocal duties roughly down the middle - Shepherd continues to grow as a singer and gives a tender performance on the title track - but when his Peter Pan vibrancy and Hunt’s cuddly-bear baritone combine, the results are magical.

The analogue approach has resulted in ‘Lay It On Down’ sounding amazing, while everyone involved, from Shepherd’s charged band to his co-writers, co-producer Marshall Altman and the guitarist himself, appears to be functioning at the peak of their considerable powers. With every cog in this purring musical machine performing, it’s little wonder the end result is the finest collection of cuts Kenny Wayne Shepherd has made to date.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun July 30 2017 - HOLMFIRTH Holmfirth Picturedrome
Fri October 27 2017 - POOLE Mr Kyps
Mon October 30 2017 - LEAMINGTON SPA Leamington Spa Assembly
Tue October 31 2017 - CARDIFF Tramshed
Wed November 01 2017 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz

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