Renowned for ushering American roots into the contemporary era, the five-time-Grammy-nominated guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd has announced his latest studio album, “Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1”, set for release on November 17th via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group. Birthed from the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, this project 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 describes it, “Every record I make is a moment in time. And this is a really special moment.”
The album’s lead single, “Sweet & Low,” encapsulates modern urban influences blended with traditional blues undertones, bringing together the quintessence of Shepherd‘s musical expertise. The track offers a fresh perspective on the old-fashioned courting ritual, emphasizing the irresistibly captivating groove. Shepherd recalls, “People I’ve played the album for, they consistently have the biggest reaction to that one.” Watch the official music video below.
Pre-order “Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1” HERE
Since the release of his debut album, 1995’s “Ledbetter Heights,” this multi-platinum bandleader still sounds like the future of the blues. 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,” considers the guitarist. “We put our strengths together and push each other.”
Throughout, as the album title suggests, the grit and emotional honesty of these new songs is prized above guitar pyrotechnics (even for one of the modern scene’s most valuable players). Of the “Dirt On My Diamonds” guiding philosophy, “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 never 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 says, “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 of such eye-opening maturity as ‘Blue On Black,’ and sell over one million copies in an era when post-grunge supposedly held sway. “It was vindication,” he nods.
To understand the direction of travel on “Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1”, it pays to revisit 2017’s “Lay It On Down,” on which Shepherd‘s enduring 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 favorite co-writers threw out the rulebook. “Nothing was off-limits,” says 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,” stresses the bandleader. “For me, it’s all about capturing the essence of the band playing live together, because that’s what we do best.”
With material this strong, no polish was needed. As on any KWS album, songs are the currency, and the seven originals from “Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1” demand to be heard, lifting listeners above their circumstances at a time when life often feels bleak and bone-raw. “I didn’t want this record to be dark or dreary,” considers 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.”
And of course, as befitted this most playful of album sessions, Shepherd dipped into his mental jukebox for a rabble-rousing cover of Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. “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!’”
Shepherd will embark on an expansive tour starting Thursday, September 21st at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, MO. This dynamic journey will take fans through iconic venues such as the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, KS, the Capital One Hall in Tysons, VA, and the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE. After showcasing his unparalleled blues-rock prowess across multiple cities, the tour will culminate on Sunday, January 28th with a special performance aboard the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Along the way, fans can also catch Kenny at special events such as the Clearwater Jazz Holiday 2023, ensuring a blend of intimate venues and grand stages. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit HERE.