Guitarist and singer Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band are back to their rocking ways on their brand new CD Lay It On Down (Concord Records), where they also add in some new sounds longtime fans may not expect from them.
“I wanted to make an album of great American roots music…,” Shepherd states in the album’s press materials. “I wanted to play to our strengths, but I also wanted to make an album full of music that people haven’t heard from us before.”
From the opening licks of the breezy, radio-friendly “Baby Got Gone” and hard-driving, “Boogie Man”-styled “Down for Love” to the closing, “top down, pedal-to-the-metal, better hold on tight” “Ride of Your Life”, Shepherd and the band lay down their fair share of rocking, cruising-down-the-highway-ready material stocked with terrific guitar grooves. And you’ll also of course hear a few nice ballads along the way, such as the tender “Louisiana Rain”.
But several of the songs (keeping with Shepherd’s interest in cars) veer in new, much different directions, including, for example, the gentle, country-flavored Eagles-ish title track that Shepherd co-wrote with “Blue on Black” collaborators Mark Selby and Tia Sillers (the three of whom also wrote “Louisiana Rain”) and the two countryish numbers that follow in the shuffling, handclap-filled “She’s $$$” and the soft ballad “Hard Lesson Learned”.
The band adds in some slick Memphis-style horns on the groovy, almost boy-bandish “Diamonds & Gold” (starting on some “Thriller”-esque keyboards from Jimmy McGorman), with “Nothing But the Night” again venturing into Glenn Frey kind of territory, while the “Oh, Pretty Woman”-styled “How Low Can You Go” brings things back into rocking mode.
Helped along perhaps by his side job as a member of the blues supergroup The Rides in addition to increased singing duties on his own band’s recent releases, Shepherd’s voice continues to evolve nicely, with Lay It On Down being probably the most confident-sounding we’ve heard him vocally. Along with the band’s new directions, the expressive songwriting, and the solid vocals from both Shepherd and longtime vocalist Noah Hunt, Shepherd’s playing is also increasingly strong and relevant, with the five-time GRAMMY Award nominee noting: “I think I’ve matured a lot in the time since I started recording [at age 16]. I’ve learned a lot about subtlety, and I’ve learned to lay back a little bit…I don’t feel the need to prove to everybody how fast I can play or how many notes I know. With whatever I’m playing, my goal now is just to try and touch the listener inside.” Together, it all makes this latest project from the band one that fans will be happy to lay some money on down for.