Reviews of CDs by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Deborah Coleman and Amel Larrieux 

Now Hear This

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, "Live On," (Giant) — This guy kicks up quite a fuss on guitar, I'll be happy to give him that. But I just wish he'd slow down for a second and think about it. He's by no means the first to go overboard while wowing a host of guitar-hungry fans; it's been going on at least since Johnny Winter put the pedal to the metal for his raucous Texas blues. Like a young Winter and countless others, this Louisiana guitarist with the gruff, years-beyond-his-time blues growl runs the fret board with speed and accuracy, but he pulls notes out of the air like an overzealous magician gone wild snatching endless rabbits from a hat. Shepherd does slow things down for "Last Goodbye" and he takes a tasty turn on "Electric Lullaby." But with guests that include Warren Haynes, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, things are pretty raucous throughout the 14 tracks. There's not a doubt that Shepherd sounds at home doing his blues-rock guitar thing and he's good at it; in fairness, he shows periods of restraint. But you get the feeling that when he advises listeners in the liner notes to "always listen to the masters" he knows his place in the grand scheme of the blues.
— Ames Arnold

Deborah Coleman, "Soft Place to Fall," (Blind Pig) — Chesapeake pop-blues woman Deborah Coleman's new CD is a step up from her previous effort but, in the end, there's something about it that still fails to convince. It starts out interestingly enough with a Robert Craylike "Look What You Do to Me." "Confused" moves into rock-blues territory that's fine enough. But soon the songs fall into that competent but unspectacular groove that reveals much potential but lacks killer instinct. The songs move along agreeably enough but there's not one in the 11-cut batch that flat takes off. Coleman varies her guitar tones and styles, but, here again, it's been heard quite a few times before and she too often seems to be going through the motions. The final rocked up judgment-day tune, "The Day it Comes," holds out spiritual promise. Let's hope the promise of Coleman's undeniable ability gets the kind of refining and guidance it deserves with the next project.
— A.A.

Amel Larrieux, "Infinite Possibilities" (Epic/550 Music) — Amel Larrieux, the honey-toned vocalist of the now-defunct hip-hop duo Groove Theory, strikes a chord with her solo strike. With mellow flavor and a voice suggesting both vulnerability and worldliness, she sings with conviction on this 10-track release.

Her sounds undoubtedly will be compared to that of Erykah Badu, since the latter expanded the definition of "alternative" by focusing on melodies, riffs and bass lines that hearken to a Billie Holiday past rather than a repeat-a-beat present.

Whereas Badu's phrasing and note-curling define her artistry, Larrieux uses her soft voice to drift and scat through the music. "Get Up" pushes perseverance in spite of life's unfair ways. The title cut recounts the angst of a young man trying to make it. Minimalist keyboards and subtle percussion mark the album. "Down" picks up the tempo slightly with harder chords and faster rhythms, but little here escapes the low-key.

But if chilling out is the goal, light the incense and pop in this CD. Next stop, Nirvana.
— Nia Ngina Meeks, The Virginian-Pilot


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