“I wanted to make an album of great American roots music, and the end result is something that I’m really pleased with,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd says of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s hard-hitting new release Lay It on Down, which is set for release on Concord Records on August 4, 2017.
In addition to traditional formats, Lay It on Down will also be available in 96/24, joining KWS’s other hi-res release on HDtracks, 2014’s Goin’ Home.
Continues Shepherd, “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. I’m pulling from a lot of different periods and genres on this one. I wanted to strike a balance between the heavy emotional stuff and the stuff that will put a smile on your face. A new album should feel new and refreshing, and this one definitely feels that way to me.”
More than two decades into a recording career that began when he was 16, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has built a powerful reputation as a visionary recording artist, a riveting live performer, and one of the most talented and distinctive guitarists of his generation. He’s also earned his stature as one of the contemporary blues world’s leading lights, standing at the forefront of a widespread revival of interest in the blues.
Lay It on Down’s 10 original songs explore some vital new creative territory while embodying the same raw, rootsy musicality that’s been a common thread in the nine albums Shepherd’s released since he first emerged as a teenaged guitar wunderkind nearly a quarter-century ago. (Your HRAC CCO vividly recalls seeing the young gun blaze away onstage in Austin during SXSW back in the day, and I’ve interviewed him a few times over the ensuing years as well.) “I wanted to touch on all of the different musical influences that I’ve had over the years,” Shepherd says. “With solid grooves, strong lyrics, good stories, and a lot of different sonic textures.”
Shepherd’s expressive songwriting and fiery, forceful playing are in abundant supply throughout the album. Such tunes as the insistently catchy, R&B-inflected “Diamonds & Gold,” the raucous rocker “Baby Got Gone,” the stately country ballad “Hard Lesson Learned,” the slyly humorous “She’s $$$,” and the sensitive, bittersweet title track all find Shepherd and his bandmates — longtime vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton (renowned for his prior work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble), veteran bassist Kevin McCormick, and keyboardist Jimmy McGorman — delivering a memorable mix of smart songcraft and blues-steeped instrumental intensity.
Shepherd wrote all of Lay It on Down‘s songs, with a variety of co-writers, including longtime collaborators Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, and noted tunesmiths Dylan Altman, Brian Maher, Danny Myrick, and Keith Stegall. “For about 2 years, I’d make trips to Nashville every chance I got to write songs with different people,” Shepherd explains. “When you’re writing with someone else, it’s inevitable that they bring something different to the table, something that I might not have thought of myself. So in an effort to grow as an artist and as a musician, I wanted to write with some different people and see what would come of that. It was kind of a roll of the dice, but it worked out really well, and we got a good mixture of songs from these different collaborations.”
Lay It on Down is the second consecutive album that Shepherd’s recorded in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. There, he, his band, and co-producer Marshall Altman, along with various guest players providing horns and pedal-steel guitar, cut the tracks with an eye towards looseness and spontaneity.
“There were no rehearsals or anything; we just went into the studio and set up and ran the songs down,” notes Shepherd. “We all played together in the same room, recorded to 2-inch tape, and did as few overdubs as possible, just trying to keep it as organic as we could. The stuff that we do is very instinct-oriented and feel-oriented, and it’s about capturing moments that happen between people, and you can only get that by actually playing together and letting the creative process flow.”
Recording in Shreveport, according to Shepherd, was a positive influence. “[2014’s] Goin’ Home was the first record I had ever recorded in my hometown, and I just enjoyed it so much,” he agreers. “There was something special about making music in the place where I first discovered music, where I learned how to play guitar. Also, it’s nice waking up and seeing my kids’ faces in the morning, going to make some music, and then coming back to my own bed instead of a hotel room.”
Concludes Shepherd, “I think I’ve matured a lot in the time since I started recording. I’ve learned a lot about subtlety, and I’ve learned to lay back a little bit. I still like to burn and I still like to get down, but I’ve also grown to understand the value of space, and the value of allowing songs to breathe. 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. Music is a powerful thing, and it’s important to me to do something positive with it.”
LAY IT ON DOWN – TRACK LISTING:
1. Baby Got Gone
2. Diamonds & Gold
3. Nothing But the Night
4. Lay It On
5. She’s $$$
6. Hard Lesson Learned
7. Down for Love
8. How Can You Go
9. Louisiana Rain
10. Ride of Your Life