On most Saturday nights, you’re likely to find Kenny Vaughan on the road, ripping through a country roots repertoire as guitarist for Marty Stuart. Last night, though, Vaughan was on his own at Willie’s Locally Known – and we do mean “on his own.”
With his bassist succumbing to stomach flu earlier in the day and his drummer taking another Nashville gig as a result, Vaughan performed as a true solo act. But if anything, that only heightened the stylistic breadth of his playing while giving the crowd an intimate and in depth look at one of Nashville’s premier fretmen at work.
Those expecting the kind of vintage county fare that Vaughan ignites with Stuart were rewarded with the Buck Owens-like groove of Country Music Got a Hold on Me (and a truly fearsome blast of warp speed picking that served as its coda) and the George Jones-like drive of Who’s on the Other Side of That.
But Vaughan’s setlist was hardly content to spend the evening rolling in the country. The 90 minute performance opened with the clean jazz stride of Mose Allison’s Ask Me Nice and concluded with a hearty encore of the Little Walter blues jam It Ain’t Right. The latter was one of three tunes that sported help from Lexington guitar maker Chad Underwood. The rest of the show employed loop-like pedal effects that captured and played back riffs and grooves. That effectively allowed Vaughan to serve as his own rhythm guitarist.
Such a practice has become increasingly popular among solo artists. But Vaughan’s use of such technology was judicious. It wasn’t implemented to create layer upon layer of melodies, as is the want of some guitar stylists. Vaughan used the effects primarily as a lean, rhythmic supplement to solo over during Ghost Riders in the Sky and as a harmonic device within the nocturnal jazz-blues soundscape of Mysterium.
Technology, stylistic daring and pure instrumental prowess combined during the new Vaughan instrumental Blues for Bill (a jazz centerpiece colored by a splash of psychedelia that was named after the guitarist’s one-time teacher, the then-unknown Bill Frisell) and an exquisite acoustic guitar reworking of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth. Vaughan dedicated the latter to Tommy Ramone, who died a day earlier.
Linking Monroe and The Ramones? No one but Vaughan would have attempted such a feat or made the results sound so honestly and simply poignant.