The blues come easily to guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Maybe too easily. At the House of Blues on Friday, fiery instrumental passages again seemed to flow effortlessly from his young fingers, sending fans into fits of euphoria. But he's yet to make a lasting personal mark on his genre.
Shepherd plays in an expressive style most often compared to his heroes Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. And his quartet's 75-minute performance Friday was most effective when paying tribute to those late guitar giants. Shepherd was inspired enough to toss a frantic piece of "Purple Haze" into a spirited version of Hendrix's "Little Wing."
Such originals as "Somehow, Somewhere, Someway" offered much in the way of sheer energy and grace, but too often his material simply fell short of his playing ability. As fans played air guitar in the aisles, several songs simply lumbered to no satisfying conclusion.
The guitarist was backed by a powerful rhythm section and vocalist Noah Hunt, an able if unexceptional blues shouter. Even during the band's most energetic moments, the spotlight never left Shepherd, who often teased the crowd by standing silently with his guitar for several moments without playing a note.
At 21, Shepherd no longer officially qualifies as a guitar prodigy. Which means the time has come for him to find his own unique voice, to grow beyond his current role as dependable blues virtuoso, as Vaughan himself had certainly done by the end of his life.