Monday, November 6, 2023

Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1

“I like a little dirt on my diamonds, like my edges rough,” go the opening lines on the title track of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s latest album.  Which is a bit ironic, because “glossy” would be a pretty good adjective for the sound dialled up by Shepherd and his co-producer Marshall Altman on Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1.  But by and large it’s glossy in a good way, and they pull out a few little tricks here and there to spice things up.
‘Sweet & Low’ is a good example, with its smoochy trumpet intro like some jazz station has been playing in the background, before Shepherd and co punch up a loping groove, with a twiddly riff augmented by bursts of a chirruping, electro-sounding rhythm effect over the steady beat.  The lyrics may be middling fare, but full marks are due for the effects-soused guitar solo, which
Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Roughen up those edges, boy!
Pic by Jim Arbogast
verges on voicebox levels of expressiveness.  There are horns beefing things up too – and we’ll get back to them later.  ‘Best Of Times’ is a band’s eye travelogue similarly enlivened by Shepherd’s squelching guitar accompaniment over a snappy snare measure from drummer Chris Layton, though it manages to get a bit repetitive even in the space of three and half minutes.
‘You Can’t Love Me’ is a strong song though, an easy-going affair with an intriguing lyric addressed to a girl apparently burdened with some “ishoos”.  Shepherd flits in and out of the soulful groove with a subtle guitar figure, complemented by sparks of organ.  It might even be the best thing here, though it has serious competition from the closing ‘Ease Of Mind’.  A straight-up slow blues, ‘Ease Of Mind’ sports a plenty satisfying, emotive vocal, with Shepherd contributing some pinging guitar licks as a warm-up for a quality, clear-toned solo that also captures the emotional theme.  A second solo picks up the baton in similarly convincing fashion, alternating between suspense and scrabbling release – maybe a tad too much of the latter – over a last beat and washes of organ.  What’s more, there are no horns on this here track.
Not that horns are a bad thing per se, or that the horns in evidence here are bad.  But it seems to me there’s just too much of ‘em.  They’re all very well on the mildly funky ‘Man On A Mission’, adding soulful punctuation as Shepherd’s guitar flickers and chimes over the skipping drums, building to a fuzzy’n’fluid solo that darts around in novel fashion.  But they’re surplus to requirements on something like ‘Bad Intentions’, a song that aims to be tough with its slam-dunk riff but whose vocals lack the requisite heft.  Credit to Shepherd though, he maintains the impetus with a skedaddling solo, and on a later turn adds still more cutting edge.
A cover of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ seems like playing it a bit safe, especially when the vocal lacks ol’ Elton’s punchy brio, and with Jimmy McGorman’s piano-pounding too low in the mix.  But the longer they stick with it the more they kick up some dust, with Shepherd going to town on a crackling solo.
Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1 is a solidly entertaining album that finds Shepherd on fine six-string form.  But I’d have liked more of that spirit of sonic adventure hinted at on ‘Sweet & Low’.  There’s a moment on the title track when some oddly tweeping organ bubbles to the surface, and is more fresh and intriguing in a few bars than swathes of the horns buttering things up. Dare to be different Kenny, and get some real dirt on them diamonds!
Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1 is released on 17 November by Provogue Records, and can be ordered here.

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