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Pop Music Review

Shepherd Remains a Gifted Guitarist in a Bit of a Bind

May 20, 2000|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There is more to the music of guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd than any single influence. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix weighs heavily on his mind. And the hyper-flash of Eddie Van Halen also has not escaped his young ears.

But the blues-based hoodoo of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan remains the central force within Shepherd's sound, an influence that has both energized and held him back.

Both results were on display Thursday at the House of Blues, the opening of a two-night stand. It's provided power for his best work, including his early hit "Somehow, Somewhere, Someway." But it's also locked Shepherd into the role of Vaughan surrogate for some fans, a creative dead-end for an artist still young enough to have aspirations of his own.

The guitarist has managed to branch out some in recent years, exploring on his new "Live On" album more straight-ahead rock and ballad material that, unfortunately, mostly recalls Hootie & the Blowfish.

At his best, Shepherd flails effortlessly on his instrument, exploding with a flurry of notes. But elsewhere, he relegates himself to the role of sideman, firing short bursts of guitar leads in an effort to charge up uninspired material.

On Thursday, Shepherd was rarely showy, seemingly confident enough in his role not to strut heroically in the spotlight. He is a gifted, energetic player.

But if he is going to have the same kind of impact as his heroes, Shepherd is going to have to find his own "Layla," his own "Kashmir" or "Purple Haze"--something undeniably his own.

* Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays Sunday at the two-day Doheny Blues Festival, Doheny State Beach, Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point. Show begins at 11 a.m. $10 to 25. $40 for pass for today and Sunday. (949) 262-2662.

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