Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band to perform at F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre
Kenny Wayne Shepherd doesn’t like to repeat himself.
The renowned blues guitarist’s latest record, 2017’s “Lay It On Down,” is proof of that predilection with its country balladry and subtle soul injections, and the seasoned axman is bringing his genre-blending catalog to Wilkes-Barre.
Shepherd and his band will perform during an evening of music that begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. Beth Hart Band will be featured on the double bill.
“The intent behind this record was to give people the blues and rock and the foundation of music people have come to expect, but to really focus on telling stories and to make it sound like a record they haven’t heard from us before,” Shepherd said of “Lay It On Down.”
Throughout his career, which broke out commercially in 1997 when Shepherd was only 20, the guitarist and his band have pushed the boundaries of the blues.
“What I do … is take blues music and infuse it with something else,” Shepherd said. “I take the genre in different directions and create stuff that sounds new.”
Although the storytelling is prominent on “Lay It On Down,” Shepherd is quick to point out that it’s always been a big part of the band’s creative process.
“We’ve always focused on lyrics. If you look at a song like ‘Blue On Black,’ I’ve always wanted my songs to have strong lyrical content, great hooks and choruses, and melodies, and that continues,” Shepherd said. “But we’ve built on that over the years.”
Album cut “Diamonds and Gold,” which delivers a blues-rock foundation with a hint of R&B, is a social commentary on vanity.
“It’s not a political statement,” Shepherd said. “It’s a pop-culture observation. What’s important to people is material things and selfies, and what’s happened in the last 15 years is fascinating and sad.”
Down-tempo tunes like the title track and “Louisiana Rain” showcase the band’s softer side.
“I’m a sucker for a good ballad,” Shepherd said. “When I was a kid, especially my teenage years, hair metal was big and the power ballad was the thing. Every metal band had to have a power ballad, and their ballad was going to be the biggest hit on the album. Ballads can be the most provoking songs.”
Increasingly, as he’s developed as an artist, Shepherd has taken the vocal helm in his band, sharing microphone time with rich baritone Noah Hunt, and his diversity onstage has evolved with his band’s wide-ranging sound.
“I like to think I’ve improved as a writer … a producer, an entertainer,” Shepherd said. “This album shows growth in that department.”
He’s also happy to see tour-mate Beth Hart and her band having success.
“I’ve known Beth for a while,” Shepherd said. “We did a couple of shows together back in the ’90s when her career first launched. She’s an incredible singer and has a lot of momentum going with her career, and it’s kind of a resurrection. … She’s been coming back with a vengeance.”
Shepherd, whose career at age 41 is already more than 20 years established, continues to find new musical avenues to travel and new ways of testing his abilities, and he prides himself in playing with the best possible players like founding drummer of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble Chris Layton and accomplished pianist and organist Joe Krown.
“To be able to do this over 25 years and support my family has been amazing,” Shepherd said. “I have to constantly challenge myself, otherwise you get stagnant and stop progressing.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @RMatthewMattei.
IF YOU GO
What: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Beth Hart Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Additional information: Ticket prices range from $34.75 to $74.75 and are available at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100.