Kenny Vaughan: V
As many readers of these pages know, Kenny Vaughan is one of the best guitarists in the business. Since starting as a teenager, he’s played country, rock and even punk. He’s performed and/or recorded with a lot of great artists (including Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, Elizabeth Cook, Tim O’Brien and Patty Loveless, to name a few) and currently has one of the best gigs in Nashville as a member of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives.
Now the consummate sideman and session player has his own album project. The record (on the Sugar Hill label) is called V. The V stands for Vaughan, I suppose, but it could stand for Very Nice, as the album is just that. Mr. Vaughan wrote all the songs (Marty Stuart has a couple of co-writes), and they reflect his influences, which are many and varied. Sugar Hill’s PR info has this quote from Mr. Vaughan:
“My dad listened to Jimmy Smith, Mose Allison, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Miles Davis, Tony Mottola, and used to take me to hear Johnny Smith play at Shaner’s in Denver. My neighbor, Charles Sawtelle, listened to Flatt and Scruggs and played Salty Dog on his Martin guitar for me. I knew then and there that I wanted to do that! I got my first electric guitar when I was twelve. The first thing I played was ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. My first band played Stones, surf, ’60’s garage punk, and Memphis soul. I saw the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Cream, Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart, Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, The Dead, The Doors, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Winter, John Mayall, and Led Zep’s first stateside gig, all before I was sixteen!”
So with all those influences and Mr. Vaughan’s resume, you might expect some diversity of sound and style. You get it. The first track is a song called Country Got A Hold On Me, which sounds a lot like a 50’s rock song. (You can see this song performed in the video below.) The last track is Don’t Leave Home Without Jesus (one of Stuart’s co-writes), described by Vaughan as “our church house rocker.” An apt description, I’d say. I wouldn’t break it out at the First Baptist church, because it might lead to dancing. There’s also a neat little number called Hot Like That, which sounds really old school, but includes these lyrics: “She’s good lookin’, she’s the one, kicking it like Kim Kardashian.”
Lillie Mae may be the best song on V. It combines Mr. Vaughan’s guitar (in this case, sounding Southern rockish, reminiscent of Marshall Tucker Band or The Allmans) with Mr. Stuart’s magical mandolin. It’s a song about a girl who won’t do right, with another of Mr. Vaughan’s modern lyrical twists: “You won’t return my email, you turned off your phone . . .” Another top pick is Stay Outta My Dreams, which sounds Bakersfield and Buck Owens though some might hear a little of Alberta’s Corb Lund, particulary in the way the vocals come down.
The lyrics on this record reflect Vaughan’s intellect, his understanding and respect for musical styles and his willingness to have a little fun turning a phrase. He’s quite a songwriter. In addition to seven songs with Mr. Vaughan’s lyrics, V includes three instrumentals. Minuit Sur La Plage has a surfy sound with some guitar solos that might remind you of Mark Knopfler. Another of the instrumentals, Mysterium, feels like a theme for a James Bond film. Wagon Ride sounds like (of all things) a wagon ride.
For a little taste of what V is like, here’s Mr. Vaughan doing Country Music Got A Hold On Me on Marty Stuart’s television show:
If you want to listen to a little more, check out this No Depression blog post which includes a widget allowing you to stream the entire record. Go over there and click on Lillie Mae (or one of the other songs) and see what you think. While you’re there, post a comment. If you do so by next Wednesday you’ll have a chance to win an autographed vinyl copy of V.
You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter @mando_lines where he tweets a lot about Americana and alt-country.