Review Summary: Grabbing your cheap Yamaha ‘wanna-be’ Strat, and dreaming of Woodstock in ’69.
Back in ‘84, a seven-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd met his future lifelong idol at one of his father’s promoted concerts. Mesmerized by the style and personality of such an individual, the glossy eyed younger Shepherd’s already simmering passion for music intensified a hundredfold, going home to continue honing his craft until the day finally came that he could achieve his dream, and earn his place among those he admired. An eventual breakthrough came available to him at the age of thirteen, when, after being invited to play onstage and impressing those who viewed the performance, Shepherd was signed to Giant Records for a multi-record deal. Since then, the young Louisiana musician has gone on to release eight studio records alongside the ‘Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’, to mostly critical acclaim, and has even received his very own Fender Stratocaster Signature Series along the way.
His idol that inspired him, of course, was none other than blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Blues music is timeless. Any average beginner guitarist will eventually stumble into a minor pentatonic blues scale during their journey, and suddenly the next three to six months will likely consist of learning the same old licks and same old scale runs that dozens of iconic former blues icons have already played a hundred thousand times before. There’s just something incredibly captivating that a well-played blues scale brings, and played with real soul
, no matter how many times before you think you’ve heard it before, or damn right know
From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Hendrix, Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s influences render him an unapologetically full on blues musician, from his debut ’95 effort Ledbetter Heights
, to his 2014 seventh record, Goin’ Home
, and Lay It On Down
is completely no different.
From the moment lead single ‘Baby Got Gone’s opening riffs burst through the gates, the curtains fall and the stage is set exactly how you expected it to be. The track is competent commercial blues rock at best, serving its purpose to welcome you in over the hearth, and leads neatly into the following ‘Diamonds & Gold’, at which comes the point Shepherd stamps his foot on the Vox Clyde McCoy, and the wah infected lead guitar licks take wonderful control. Again, the track is reasonably straight to the point blues rock; it’s good fun, but hardly anything that hasn’t been seen before, and Shepherd seems perfectly okay with that.
The barrage of influences continues as the album moves forward, groovy number ‘Nothing But The Night’ sounding like a strange mix of Michael Jackson & The Bee Gees, that actually works rather spectacularly in its favour, and ‘She’s $$$’ is about as close to ‘Foxy Lady’ as Shepherd is likely ever to get without expecting a lawsuit. It’s worth noting that the song writing itself is actually pretty solid for most of the album, Shepherd’s crooning fitting much of the lyrical content quite nicely;
”Something ‘bout the moon, gets me in the mood, for rolling on the river in a velvet sky.
When not displaying some excellent chops for soloing, Shepherd also takes a moment to venture into a more southern rock vibe on tracks ‘Down For Love’ and ‘Ride For Your Life’, the latter easily being one of the more interesting cuts on the record riffage-wise, and allows Shepherd to embrace his inner biker for once.
As for the remainder of Lay It On Down
, Shepherd stumbles heavily when it comes to the softer, more ballad orientated material; ‘Lay It On Down’ and ‘Hard Lesson Learned’ leave much to be desired while they drearily drift on by with little deserving of a listeners attention. The only slower track really noteworthy comes in the form of ‘Louisiana Rain’, with Shepherd melancholically recalling his home state, and the rain that comes in ”a thousand shades of grey”
and ”a million shades of blue”
. It’s a good enough track worth revisiting, but like the other slower cuts on the album, it generally bores over time.
As an overall package, Lay It On Down
neatly sits at the top of an incredibly teetering pile of modern blues rock CD’s, happily waiting to unleash it’s commercial accessibility upon all those that stumble across it. It’s easy to get into, and good fun, and Shepherd is fully in his element, still the glossy eyed inner seven-year-old that once upon a time looked up at a blues legend, and wished he could be exactly the same
. Sure, there’s a certain lacking in originality, but that’s almost the entire point of it all, and Lay It On Down
contains enough solid material to allow this little fact just slip on by, ready to pop up once again when his ninth record drops. It may be a tad dull at times when Shepherd’s poetic side decides to stick its oar in, but the fact of the matter is that Kenny Wayne Shepherd is at his best when embracing his inner 13 year old; standing atop his bedroom chest of drawers, cheap Yamaha ‘wanna-be’ Strat plugged into a rickety old tube amp, and playing away with his eyes shut while dreaming of Woodstock in ’69.