“Monsieur, with these blues albums you are really spoiling us…”
The good people at Provogue continue to treat us to a plethora of quality blues releases. Gary Cordwell grabs his black cat bone (fnarr) and settles down to give them a listen…
Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Lay It On Down
Release date: 21 July 2017
The latest release in Provogues’ stellar crop of recent blues issues is the new offering from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, his eighth album (believe it or not), and his first since 2014’s rather excellent ‘Goin’ Home’ covers album.
If variety is the spice of life then Shepherd is serving us a big old Vindaloo of an album here. His mission statement this time out was to deliver his best collection of songs yet and he may possibly have succeeded. He’s surrounded himself with the cream of Nashvilles songwriters and producers and delivered what is probably his most accessible and mainstream album to date.
The emphasis here is on songs and songwriting, but that’s not to say it’s at the expense of the twiddly, guitary stuff (let me know if this is getting too technical). ‘Baby Got Gone’ has a nimble, funky riff and tasty Hammond organ and the solo, when it arrives, is economical and to the point.
And from here on in we have a bit of everything. ‘Diamonds And Gold’ has a touch of blue-eyed soul, replete with backing vocals and a tasteful horn section. Is it bluesy? Not really but it’s good. Soft rock plays a surprisingly large part too. That moment in each episode of Miami Vice (sorry millennials) when the power ballad kicked in? That’ll be ‘Nothing But The Night’.
Oh yes, and Country, quite a bit of Country (unsurprising really given the Nashville connection). ‘Hard Lesson Learned’ has piano, pedal steel and a broken heart, it’s a big dang slice of bro’ country epicness. The blues finally makes an appearance at the albums half way point. Kenny takes off joyously, his guitar let of the leash for a song or two. ‘Down For Love’ is a potted history of Stevie Ray Vaughan riffs and tricks while ‘How Low Can You Go’ is bluesier still. The sequencing of this release impresses too – it’s put together like a proper album, not a series of random downloads, it’s becoming a lost art.
Americana reappears with the autobiographical ‘Louisiana Rain’, its swampy acoustics and big key change make this a surefire radio hit and there is serious heart and soul in these grooves. This album is a logical progression for Shepherd and a genuine triumph. It’s controlled, measured, confident and experienced, embracing not just blues but country, soul, funk and even RnB. The song-centric nature of the album is boosted and accentuated by Marshal Altmans smooth, radio-friendly production. It’s a bid for mainstream acceptance without sacrificing any of his integrity or chops and it is indeed his best release yet. Mission accomplished.
- 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
- Louisiana Rain
- Ride Of Your Life
- Lay It On Down (Acoustic Bonus Track)
Sonny Landreth – Recorded Live In Lafayette
Released in June
And lo, blues slide maestro Sonny Landreth finally bestows upon us the live album (only his second) we had long hoped for. But it’s not just any contracutual obligation live album, oh no – what we have here is a double – a one side acoustic, one electric, career overview. It’s recorded in his home state of Louisiana and that bayou feel permeates the whole show. It’s swampy, fluid, humid and nicely chilled. Apart from Landreths’ immaculate resonator guitar, the other key instrument in the acoustic set is Steve Conns’ accordion, helping to create its laid back Cajun groove.
Landreths’ band are uniformly brilliant, they communicate telepathically, locking into flawless vamps one minute and soloing the next – but never grandstanding, they add colour and texture to the songs. There are slow, moody ballads, bayou dust ups and bluesy shuffles. Landreths vocals are smooth and husky and his guitar is as mind-bending as you’d expect, wrapped in velvet Cooderisms. A wondrous, lazy, New Orleans amble through ‘Key To The Highway’ is probably the high point, “if I’d ever had a theme song”, says Landreth, “that would be it”. And it shows.
And then we get to the juice of the show…the electric set. Sure, the acoustic set was good, a chance to hear old songs in a new setting, but now it’s time for Landreth to fly. He and the band light the touch paper and tear it up with abandon.. The excitement in the audience as the amps turn on is palpable. The guitar is now immediately front and centre. Landreth breaks songs down, inhabits them and takes them in staggering new directions. The middle of the set is loaded with a trio of frankly skyscraping instrumentals. The ensuing brain frying fretwork has hints of several guitar legends but it’s all melted down and re-cast as an alien delta blues, a mercury, otherworldly Bayou sound that’s pure Sonny Landreth. We don’t need blues covers where we’re going now, all Landreth needs to do is play, and does he ever! It’s sumptuous, ambient and shred-tastic, quite often all in the same song.
Having blown our collective minds, we’re taken back to the blues for a few more songs, one final guitar/accordion duel and we’re done. It’s a glorious thing. The only player who comes close is Ry Cooder but this is kinda the Cooder we want, minus the eccentric non-guitar diversions, which really can only be a good thing. It’s an essential live snapshot of a slide master in his element.
- Blues Attack
- Hell At Home
- Key To The Highway
- Creole Angel
- A World Away
- The High Side
- Bound By The Blues
- The U.S.S Zydecoldsmobile
- Back To The Bayou Teche
- True Blue
- The Milky Way Home
- Brave New Girl
- Soul Salvation
- Walkin’ Blues
- The One And Only Truth