LIVE: Kenny Wayne Shepherd @ The Egg, 8/10/17
Review by Don Wilcock
WARNING: The following presentation contains the highly prejudicial views of an old blues fan. Some of my comments may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
I went to see the five-time Grammy Award winner Kenny Wayne Shepherd play The Egg’s Hart Theatre last week on the second stop of his current American tour. I felt like a Red Sox fan entering the Yankees dugout, surrounded by a rabid near-sell-out crowd. I personally think the blues rocker plays by the numbers. Technically, he’s a strong guitarist, but he lacks the two elements that define great blues – truth and soul.
Apparently I’m the only one who feels that way.
His ninth album Lay It Down has just debuted at No. 1 on Nielsen SoundScan’s Top Blues chart, No. 1 on both the Current Rock Albums chart and Internet Albums chart, No. 5 on the Top Current Albums chart and No. 34 on the Top 200. Guitar World raves: “…a king-size helping of Shepherd’s trademark roots-rocking fireworks.” Guitar Player Magazine explains: “Lay It On Down showcases a more roots-based, Americana sound from Shepherd, and the guitarist was inspired by several genres and musical eras during its inception. The album was recorded super-old-school – live in the studio to analog tape.”
OK, you may ask, if I’m such an old fart, true-blue blues critic, why did I bother to go? One answer is that I often hear and feel things in live concerts I don’t hear and feel on their records, and I’d never seen Shepherd in his 20-year career perform live. Another reason is I wanted to take David, my son-in-law, to the show. He’s a heavy metal fan who is becoming more and more interested in the blues.
The only other blues show I’ve taken him to was B.B. King’s last Palace Theatre performance a couple years ago. And to put it mildly, B.B. was too far gone to be onstage at that point and literally couldn’t do his patented guitar runs through even one whole song. I knew David would enjoy Shepherd because Shepherd has youthful energy and really rocks the blues.
The third and most relevant reason I went was because I wanted to see the artist who is this generation’s most successful “entry artist.” These are the words of Dick Waterman, blues journalist, photographer, promoter and agent who first brought Buddy Guy to a mass audience in the late ’60s. Dick says every pop music fan who turns onto the blues gets hooked initially by an entry artist whose music is familiar enough to that fan to get his attention but also gets hooked by that artist’s interpretation of standard blues riffs. The Stones, Cream, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan are prime examples of entry artists.
Shepherd ended his two-hour set at The Egg with a carbon copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” Chris Layton, founding drummer in Stevie’s Double Trouble band, is Shepherd’s drummer. Shepherd covered two B.B. King songs: “Woke Up This Morning” and “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now.” He covered Slim Harpo’s 1965 blues hit “I’m A King Bee.”
That said, the majority of his show consisted of songs from his new album of originals including “Baby Got Gone,” “Diamonds and Gold,” “Nothing but the Night,” “Lay It On Down,” “She’s $ $ $,” “Hard Lesson Learned,” “Down for Love,” “How Low Can You Go?” and “Louisiana Rain,” one of the few ballads in the set. He enjoyed several standing ovations.
All of the originals from his new album were co-written by Nashville songwriters with a proven record of writing hot country hits. The lyrics are vacuum sealed in plastic, but Shepherd jacks up the energy with guitar licks that punctuate a crack band. So, if he offers training wheels for fans who later get into artists who have real soul, who am I to complain?
If you like Shepherd, here are a few other artists who just might take you to the moon: Toronzo Cannon, Selwyn Birchwood, Jim Suhler, Ronnie Baker Brooks, his brother Wayne Baker Brooks, Fiona Boyes, Shakira S’Aida, Kenny Neal, Albert Cummings, Lurrie Bell…
UPCOMING: There are a couple of other big blues shows on tap tonight (Tuesday, August 15) around Greater Nippertown with Buddy Guy and Quinn Sullivan at The Egg, while Joe Bonamassa lands at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And if you want more Kenny Wayne Shepherd, he steps into the spotlight at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton on Saturday (August 19).