Friday, June 21, 2024

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Can’t Be Loved

Renowned for ushering American roots into the contemporary era, five-time-Grammy-nominated guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd latest studio album, Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1, is set for release on 17th November via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group, and ahead of that is new single ‘You Can’t Love Me’.

A sonic embodiment of Shepherd’s modern vision for blues, with evocative lyrics that delve deep into the nuances of self-worth and love, highlighting the emotional depth and raw truth that he brings to the table.

Birthed at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA the album chronicles Shepherd’s journey of musical evolution, touching on stories of loss, redemption, and memorable melodies, all crafted by an elite team of songwriters. As Shepherd himself described it, “Every record I make is a moment in time. And this is a really special moment.”

You can check out the video for ‘You Can’t Love Me’ here at RAMzine. It follows a couple of previous singles taken from the album.

‘Best Of Times’ out in September is a powerful socio-political song that drives hard, while maintaining melody ensures the song’s meaning’s present. Available digitally, you can check out the video right here at RAMzine.

The album’s first single, ‘Sweet & Low, was released a while back – It encapsulates modern urban influences blended with traditional blues undertones. The track offers a fresh perspective on the old-fashioned courting ritual, emphasising its groove. As Shepherd recalled, “People I’ve played the album for, they consistently have the biggest reaction to that one.”

Since the release of his debut album, 1995’s Ledbetter Heights, the multi-platinum bandleader still looks to the future in his playing, thus approach Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1 expecting autopilot twelve-bars and you’ll instead be thrown a volley of curveballs, from the modern urban edge of ‘Sweet & Low’ to the speaker-tearing production from Shepherd and his partner-in-sound of recent years, Marshall Altman. “Working with Marshall, it’s like any productive relationship,” the guitarist considered. “We put our strengths together and push each other.” 
 
Grit and emotional honesty are said to be prized above guitar pyrotechnics with the album’s guiding philosophy noted as, “Life has imperfections, and I actually prefer it that way. The imperfections are what make it interesting.”
 
Since his birth in North Louisiana, in 1977, Shepherd’s own life has hardly followed the script. Steeped in classic blues and rock ‘n’ roll from an early age by his dad – a respected Louisiana radio personality and promoter – the kid soon reached for his first Fender Stratocaster and found he didn’t require lessons to make it cry and wail. Long before Warner Brothers subsidiary Giant Records offered a deal, Shepherd had clocked up countless miles on a merciless touring schedule of clubs he was still too young to drink in. “For the first five years,” he recalled, “I was on the road non-stop.”
 
But that old-school apprenticeship sharpened both his chops and songcraft to a razor’s edge. Following up the aforementioned Ledbetter Heights, Shepherd changed his world forever with 1997’s Trouble Is… the breakthrough second album that saw him write songs such as ‘Blue On Black’, and sell over one million copies in an era when post-grunge supposedly held sway. “It was vindication,” he nodded.
 
To understand the direction of travel on Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1, it pays to revisit 2017’s Lay It On Down, where Shepherd’s partnership with producer Marshall Altman began. “After Lay It On Down and The Traveler, this is my third consecutive album working with Marshall, and the evolution almost feels like chapters in a book. To me, this album sounds incredibly fresh, modern and current.”

It all started with the aforementioned session at FAME, where Shepherd and his favourite co-writers threw out the rulebook. “Nothing was off-limits,” said the bandleader of penning the songs whose vocal parts would be split down the line between himself and co-vocalist Noah Hunt. “We just wrote non-stop for three days, throwing out songs and letting the good stuff rise to the top. Sometimes with these writing sessions, especially in towns like Nashville, people will set up an appointment, like, ‘OK, we’ll get together from one til three’. But this time, we weren’t under the gun, it was just a bunch of guys having fun writing music. And of course, you feel the history down there in Muscle Shoals. You feel it in the air at a studio like FAME.”
 
Rolling with the punches, the project recommenced at a friend’s studio in Burbank for the handful of brass, vocal and guitar overdubs. “But the least amount necessary,” stressed Shepherd. “For me, it’s all about capturing the essence of the band playing live together, because that’s what we do best.”

The full track listing for Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1  is Dirt On My Diamonds’, ‘Sweet & Low’, ‘Best Of Times’, ‘You Can’t Love Me’, ‘Man On A Mission’, ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’, ‘Bad Intentions’ and ‘Ease On My Mind’.

Regarding the rabble-rousing cover of Elton John’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ Shepherd said: “I always keep a catalogue in the back of my mind of songs I think my band could bring our thing to. The timing worked out well because Elton is doing his farewell tour. Also, I love his guitar player, Davey Johnstone. He’s a friend, too, and when we recorded that song, I sent him a message saying, ‘Hey man, we’re gonna cover ‘Saturday Night…’ – and he said, ‘Go for it!’

“I didn’t want this record to be dark or dreary,” said Shepherd. “There’s not a lot of incredibly heart-wrenching or difficult subject matter…My goal is always to make music that makes people feel good, regardless of what it’s about.”

You can order the album by clicking here and check out the official music videos for both singles right here at RAMzine.

Paul H Birch
Paul H Birch
RAMzine Senior Writer - Writer of fiction, faction and fact, has edited several newsstand magazines. He declares himself a hack for hire but refuses to compromise on the subject of music.

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