That everything on “Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 1” sounds fun and relaxed, is best shown by the cover here. Elton John’s “Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting” is – and I’ll accept no debate on this – one of the great songs, and of course, Kenny Wayne Shepherd isn’t going to improve on it (in all fairness I imagine he’s not even trying to) but listen to his closing solo here, listen to the absolute rock n roll glory of the piano (think Jerry Lee Lewis without the whole marrying his underage cousin thing). And then try not to smile. Go on. You won’t.
And that’s basically the vibe. As KWS himself puts it “Nothing was off-limits” and it sounds like it too.
Working with Marshall Altman as he has done on his last few, “…..Vol 1” is a delight. A pick-and-mix n mix, a grab-bag of everything that’s ever been in his music. From the horns of the title track – which actually lists as many opposites as possible “I like a little sinner and a little Saint,” it goes at one point – this is as wonderful a melting pot as you can imagine.
Recorded down in Muscle Shoals, where there’s magic in the water, there’s an urban soul-filled thing “Sweet N Low” which has dance at its edges, and the grooves of “Best Of Times” are funky as you like.
And maybe part of this is that KWS isn’t a conventional “solo” artist, rather he’s a “bandleader”. Sharing his vocals with Noah Hunt and enlisting a string of writers to polish the diamonds.
“You Can’t Love Me” for example, is exquisitely done and in other hands might be one of those mega-selling country tunes. The playing, though, both of the guitar and the organ, is pure blues.
Not that Shepherd ever overplays. He’s brilliant, but the songs are always the most important. “Man On A Mission” is mid-paced and brings the summer breeze even to an English November, but the melody wins out over ant guitar histrionics.
“Bad Intentions” is another horny one (and this time I don’t just mean the liberal use of a horn section) “Your daddy won’t like it, I don’t care about that” it goes – almost revelling in it, you sense.
Interestingly, it ends with a full-on blues ballad (albeit you half expect it to break into Alannah Myles’ sultry anthem “Black Velvet” at one point). “I’ll make my guitar sing,” says KWS before the solo) and my goodness does he do just that.
Whether that’s a precursor to “Dirt On My Diamonds Vol 2” only time will tell, I suppose. It is over a quarter of a century since Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the future of the blues when he stuck out “Trouble is…..”. He’s better these days because he does what he wants, and on this collection, it sounds like that made him happier than ever.