When you hear Sheppard's voice, its high whine sets it apart right away from the deep, gravelly kind that you associate with most outlaw country. His richly layered accompaniments belie the standard country sound too, but mostly apparent is his natural gift for damn good songs. "Steady Your Aim' is full of them.
Sheppard's sophomore release is an analog recording with narratives borne out of growing up in Idaho's open spaces, replete with pedal steel, piano, cello, Wurlitzer and churning B3 organ. Recorded at Ivy Hall Studio in Nashville, Sheppard, 29, co-produced with Eric Loomis and Wes Walsworth, both of whom play guitar, contributing to the expansive sound.
Sheppard has driven all over the U.S., one extended trip comprising more than 8,000 miles before he landed back in his preferred location, Idaho. These nomadic themes inform tunes such as "Travel Light and Carry On' and the opener "Take a Walk With Me," the latter inspired by packing up his life in L.A., where he made his first record, and retreating to the mountains. Even the title track, purposely less upbeat, speaks to dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a musician on the road.
Sheppard's scope though, proves to be much wider than traveling songs. "Not My Kind" is as defiant a protest song as you'll hear, crying out against those who blindly embrace patriotism without considering opinions of others. "Lies as Cheap as Whisky" is his clever way of leveraging a drinking song to come to terms with a dissolving relationship. "Holy Water" seems to be about abandoning a relationship where the woman seemed either unattainable or above it all. The acoustic closer "Further Away" touches on mortality.
To simply call Sheppard's music 'outlaw country' is doing it a great disservice. There's something much deeper going on here.