The temptations of pop stardom are obvious enough — if nothing else, twentysomething blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd probably wanted to perform before auds his own age. But his new album, “The Place You’re In” (Reprise), has languished, as listeners didn’t find his grittier but less hook-filled Lenny Kravitz a compelling place to go.
At the sold-out House of Blues, Shepherd split the difference, giving his fans the guitar pyrotechnics they came for along with hesitant steps toward a more contemporary sound. While the show was a crowd-pleaser, it was his sheer technical facility rather than his choice of song or personal vision that carried the day. While the two-hour set leaves no doubt that Shepherd has the chops to play whatever he sets his mind to, one left the club with little idea of what was actually on his mind.
He certainly has good taste: His solos show he’s learned his lessons from Clapton, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin, but little of his own personality shows up in his playing.
It’s his name on the marquee, and Shepherd certainly has moxie — you don’t tread on the hallowed ground of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” unless you’re very, very sure of yourself — but Noah Hunt is the band’s front man, doing most of the talking and taking the lion’s share of the lead vocals. He has the husky swagger the music calls for, while Shepherd’s voice is thin and tentative. The guitarist sings lead on the new album’s title track, a Stonesy ballad, a song that only catches fire during his soaring, liquid-toned solo — he may not be up to being Mick Jagger at this point in his career, but he’s certainly the equal of Mick Taylor.