Review: Blues Rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd Shines on ‘Dirt on My Diamonds Volume 1’

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Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Dirt on My Diamonds Volume 1
(Provogue/Mascot Label Group)
4 out of 5 stars

Louisiana blues-rocking veteran Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been on a post-COVID roll. After the pandemic squashed much of his touring to support The Traveler (2019), Shepherd and his veteran band hit the road hard, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the career-making Trouble Is… (1997) with a tour playing the album in its entirety, followed by a DVD documentary of that show.

But now it’s back to new music with this, the third of three albums comprised of songs co-penned and co-produced, by Marshall Altman, who seems to be a mentor of sorts. It’s also, as the title implies, the first of two sets.

There aren’t any major alterations in Shepherd’s approach. But these tunes exemplify how he channels his love for the blues into gutsy, rocking selections with memorable melodies and of course lots of sizzling six-string pyrotechnics. He’s a riff master, crafting snug, often funky licks like those propelling “Best of Times,” the gritty, Gov’t Mule-styled “Bad Intentions” and the stomping opening title track, all with concise, supple authority.

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The bittersweet ballad “You Can’t Love Me” (…if you don’t love you closes the thought) and the self-descriptive, mid-tempo “Man on a Mission” (I guess I might fall on my face / But that’s a chance I have to take) lighten the vibe, but not for long. At seven minutes, the closing “Ease My Mind” digs into a standard, relaxed bluesy shuffle not far from Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” jam, allowing Shepherd to dial down the volume while shooting off terse, tight licks that shift from flowing to a thrilling explosive finale, displaying subtlety, taste and restraint.   

He maintains his road band, featuring singer Noah Hunt (who sits out vocals for about half these tracks where Shepherd takes the lead), Chris Layton on drums, and New Orleans’ legendary keyboardist Joe Krown. The familiarity and connection these guys exude, after hundreds of shows, is evident in performances displaying the synergy and provocative musical collaboration of a fine-tuned unit.

A rote, unnecessary cover of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” is hot enough, but doesn’t add anything fresh to the original and seems like padding on an already short album. Shepherd’s occasional reliance on his wah-wah pedal also feels dated.

But those are minor criticisms for another solid entry into the guitarist’s catalog, one that improves as he ages.    

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