The first thing that grabbed you was the tone – clean, buoyant and complete. It ran through every blissfully tasteful note Kenny Vaughan conjured out of his guitar Friday night at Willie’s Locally Known. What took over after that was the veteran Nashville picker’s profound sense of taste.
Oh, he could soar, shred and reel off the warp-speed runs with the best of them. And there were instances during the Buck Owens-style Country Music Got a Hold on Me and a set-closing cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky when Vaughan worked himself into an instrumental lather and unleashed an arsenal of instrumental firepower that would do any guitar hero proud. But there were far more instances when he settled into a subtle rhythm and embraced a fluid, unflashy blues shuffle (Freddie King’s Sidetracked), a leisurely rock stroll that touched on the psychedelia of American Beauty-era Grateful Dead (Chuck Berry’s Memphis) and a sense of rich nocturnal soul that recalled Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac (the original instrumental Mysterium).
Vaughan also proved a highly serviceable vocalist throughout the 80-minute set. But this was a show to savor for its design alone: the way it gave a proven Nashville pro a playground of stylistic possibilities to take advantage of. In terms of tone and tunefulness, Vaughan made each musical accent he hit on shine in a way that was as authoritative as it was effortless.
As was the case with two previous Willie’s visits in June and August, Vaughan’s trio did double duty. The guitarist followed his own set by providing the instrumental backdrop for Nashville songsmith Sam Lewis.
Possessed with vocal colors that occasionally sounded like mid-’70s James Taylor, Lewis’ compositional preferences for R&B-flavored folk and country leaned more to the music of Georgia songsmith Randall Bramblett but without the latter’s dominant Southern imagery.
Songs like Southern Greek Tragedy, Reinventing the Blues and a funk-flavored reading of Bob Dylan’s To Ramona were all engaging, especially when Vaughan chimed back in with a wholly different encyclopedia of roots-driven solos.