Versatile, veteran, venerable, vibrant, vintage, Vaughan.
The “V” on the cover of Kenny Vaughan’s debut album could represent any one, or quite possibly, all of the words in the aforementioned list.
Spending the last two decades as a one of Nashville’s go-to guitar men and the last 10 as Marty Stuart’s sidekick in the Fabulous Superlatives, Vaughan has happily spent his time in the shadow of the spotlight.
With “V,” released Sept. 13 by Sugar Hill Records, he is at last allowing his own name to be put on the marquee.
Wielding his guitar and clad in a rhinestone suit, white cowboy hat and boots, Kenny Vaughan’s appearance alone screams country music. As soon as “V” emits from a stereo speaker, there is absolutely no question of his love of country: “Country Music Got a Hold On Me” is the first song and the first sentence on the album.
Just what kind of country music got a hold on Vaughan? Being a member of Marty Stuart’s band, Vaughan primarily leans toward rockabilly, but he is by no means selective. Country-gospel, Western swing and alt-country all have a place on “V.”
Vaughan is also intrepid enough to defy the common perception of “country” by appending influences outside of the genre. His varied background, which includes stints playing punk, rock ’n’ roll and jazz, is integrated with the music that’s got a hold of his soul. It results in something that’s uniquely Vaughan.
His lyrics are witty and sometimes borderline silly, which only adds to his quirkiness. Women, an oft-covered topic in country, make several appearances on “V.” Vaughan’s ladies are just as eccentric as he is. In the swinging “Hot Like That,” his lady likes “lunch at midnight and breakfast at noon.” The Oak Ridge Boys assist in describing his homesteading “chickadee” from “Okolona Tennessee.”
“Lilie Mae” refers to his woman who’s been seen “hanging at the Bluegrass Inn, drinkin’ and kissin’ that boy plays the mandolin.” Funny enough, Marty Stuart is picking the mandolin in the background. The song, not as giddy as the previously mentioned numbers, takes on more of a rock ’n’ roll vibe, evocative of The Band, Pure Prairie League and other country-rock outlets.
Vaughan’s ace guitarwork, Stuart’s perfect mandolin and the tight harmonies of the Fabulous Superlatives make “Lillie Mae” the most arresting song on “V.”
The Fabulous Superlatives join Vaughan on every song but one on “V,” and Marty Stuart has two co-writing credits. On the first, “Stay Outta My Dreams,” Stuart and Vaughan revel in their shared admiration of Buck Owens.
Vaughan calls the second collaboration and the album’s last song, “Don’t Leave Home Without Jesus,” their “church house rocker.” If other religious songs were as convivial as this, less people would be nodding off during Sunday morning services.
Vaughan’s straight-forward, unadorned vocal style is a welcome departure from the strained, over-the-top singing present in almost all popular music, be it country or otherwise. His voice does not detract; rather, it adds yet another layer to an idiosyncratic personality, which is more than welcome in a world of homogeneous music.
With the bold and savvy picking boasted on every song of “V,” there’s no question as to why Vaughan is often called upon to do session work or why Marty Stuart keeps him in tow. The album demonstrates that Kenny Vaughan is no second-hand man. Instead, Nashville’s prominent guitarist is a capable leading man.