The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band shoots wide on its upcoming eighth album Lay It On Down — by design.
“I wanted to grab from several different genres,” Shepherd tells Billboard. On Lay It On Down, due out Aug. 4, that means running the gamut from hard rockers such as “Baby Got Gone,” soulful workouts like “Diamonds & Gold,” the bluesy shuffles of “Down For Love” and “The Ride Of Your Life” and countrified ballads in the weepy “Hard Lesson Learned,” “Louisiana Rain” and the title track, which is premiering exclusively below.
“The goal was to make a contemporary sounding record,” Shepherd explains, “something that was new and fresh and obviously doesn’t sound like many of my other records. The last record I did (2014’s Goin’ Home) was traditional blues, so on this one I needed to do some different things, and I think we did.”
The gentle “Lay It On Down” — which Shepherd co-wrote with “Blue On Black” collaborators Mark Selby and Tia Sillers — certainly represents something different for Shepherd and company. “It’s, like, a midtempo ballad, which surprises some people, but I love ballads,” Shepherd says. “I grew up in the era of the power ballad. That was the biggest thing on the radio when I was a teenager, those rock n’ roll ballads. So I’m a sucker for a good ballad and wanted to have one on this record.” But there’s more to “Lay It on Down” than might immediately be evident.
“This one is very complex,” Shepherd says. “It’s got a very significant lyric to it. It’s personal. It’s about someone I know very well; It’s about a girl who has bought into the idea she’s not good enough, and that’s not the truth. Everyone else sees the beauty in her except her, so the guy in the song’s trying to say, ‘I wish you could see what I see.’ The message in the song is, like, ‘Believe in yourself. Don’t buy into the voices in your head that want to drag you down.’ I think that speaks to a lot of people in the world, too, not just who I’m singing the song about.”
Despite the experimentation, Shepherd is confident that fans of his trademark blues-rock will not be disappointed. “That’s the foundation of what I do. You hear that in all my music, and in all of the tracks on the record,” he explains. But the other genre flavors put that root in a new context. “Drawing from these different genres and various musical influences, it enables me to take that blues foundation and put it in different directions and try different things with it, step outside the box a little bit,” Shepherd says. “I really wanted to continually keep the fans interested in what we’re doing and not be predictable.”
Lay It On Down is also the second consecutive album Shepherd has recorded in his hometown of Shreveport, La., with producer Marshall Altman at Blade Studios. “I’m from Louisiana. That’s my family there. That’s where I explored my love and passion for this music,” Shepherd notes. “The epicenter of my musical life is there. That’s where I explored my love and passion for this music. So everything comes full circle, and it seemed like a natural place to do it. For as long as that place exists, I want to record there.”