Louisiana Guitarist Shows Blues Rock Is Alive

The electric guitar may be fading, but the blues ain’t dead yet

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A few weeks ago, I read for the first time about Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s upcoming new studio album. It brought a big smile on my face. Ironically, this happened in the wake of a Washington Post story with the clever title Why My Guitar Gently Weeps with a cheerful subhead The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care. Care I do. And there is perhaps nothing that gets me more excited than a bit of defiance!

Shepherd, a 40-year-old guitarist from Shreveport, La., is one of several young artists who are keeping blues rock alive. Three other musicians I can think of in this context are Texans Gary Clark Jr. (33), from Austin, and Casey James (35), from Fort Worth, as well as Joe Bonamassa, a 40-year-old hailing from New Hartford, N.Y. James just came out with his latest record Strip It Down, which I previously reviewed here.

Of course, I’m not suggesting all it takes to reverse declining electric guitar sales is a bunch of young blues rockers – BTW, “young artist” in my book means up to 40 years. But I hope, perhaps naively, the more cool guitar dudes are out there, the more young kids will realize there are cool things beyond video consoles and games. And, last time I checked, you can still impress a lady with playing the guitar – just saying! 🙂

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Back to Shepherd who started teaching himself how to play the guitar at age seven after he had been blown away by seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1990, the then-13-year-old already recorded his fist demo tapes. His studio debut, Ledbetter Heights, followed in September 1995. Shepherd’s upcoming album, Lay It On Down, will be his eighth studio release. It’s scheduled to come out Friday, August 4.

Shepherd discussed his new album during a recent interview with Billboard. “I wanted to grab from several different genres,” he noted. According to the publication, the music ranges from hard rockers (Baby Got Gone), soul-flavored tunes (Diamonds & Gold), blues songs (Down For Love and The Ride Of Your Life) to country-influenced ballads (Hard Lesson Learned, Louisiana Rain and the title track).

“The goal was to make a contemporary sounding record,” Shepherd noted, “something that was new and fresh and obviously doesn’t sound like many of my other records. The last record I did (2014’s Goin’ Home) was traditional blues, so on this one I needed to do some different things, and I think we did.” From what I can tell at this time, he succeeded.

Four of the album’s 10 tracks are already available in iTunes/Apple Music and I imagine other platforms. The record vigorously opens with Baby Got Gone, a tune I instantly liked after listening to just the opening bars. Here’s a nice clip of the official video.

Next up: Diamonds & Gold. The track has a kick-ass horn section that gives it a nice soul groove. I’m also turned on by Shepherd’s use of the wah-wah pedal – yep, that antique electric guitar effect that became famous in the late 60s when Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other guitarists widely embraced it. My kind of music!

Nothing But the Night takes things down by a tiny notch. The mid-tempo rocker has a good groove and a catchy chorus. Listen for yourself!

The final song I can call out is the title track, a beautiful mid-tempo ballad. It’s one of the above mentioned country-influenced and stripped back tunes. Shepherd co-wrote it with blues rock singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, a Nashville songwriter. Sillers is probably best known for co-writing I Hope You Dance, a no. 1 country hit for Lee Ann Womack in 2000 – one of the most beautiful inspirational tunes I know.

Commenting on the song during the above Billboard interview, Shepherd said, “This one is very complex…It’s got a very significant lyric to it. It’s personal. It’s about someone I know very well; It’s about a girl who has bought into the idea she’s not good enough, and that’s not the truth. Everyone else sees the beauty in her except her, so the guy in the song’s trying to say, ‘I wish you could see what I see.’ The message in the song is, like, ‘Believe in yourself. Don’t buy into the voices in your head that want to drag you down.’ I think that speaks to a lot of people in the world, too, not just who I’m singing the song about.”

Produced by Marshall Altman, Lay It On Down was recorded at Blade Studios in Shreveport. Altman also produced Shepherd’s previous studio album Goin’ Home, which appeared in May 2014. Despite what Shepherd called the experimentation, he believes folks who have come to like him because of his blues rock sound are going to embrace the new record. “That’s the foundation of what I do. You hear that in all my music, and in all of the tracks on the record,” he told Billboard. “Drawing from these different genres and various musical influences, it enables me to take that blues foundation and put it in different directions and try different things with it, step outside the box a little bit.”

Well said! I can’t wait until the entire album will become available.

Sources: Wikipedia, Washington Post, Billboard, YouTube

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