Sunday, July 18, 2010

Legendary Shack Shakers: Agri-dustrial

Last weekend when I met up with the guys for a weekend of baseball and mischief, Tommy gave me a CD to bring home and listen to. I had never heard of the band... But it's name was definitely intriguing. The Legendary Shack Shakers are one of those band names that would cause a guy like me to purchase their album simply by their name. Tommy gave me their Agri-dustrial album, which I believe is their 6th release. Robert Plant is a noted fan, and the Shack Shakers can be seen regularly on tour with the Reverend Horton Heat.

This Nashville, Tennessee band is not a disappointment and Agri-dustrial is a very good album. The sound they produce is so reminiscent of so many other bands' sounds that it becomes uniquely their own. Confused?... Well let me try to explain. These guys are NOT copycats.While I have heard musical variations of what the Legendary Shack Shakers are doing, I have never heard a band that epitomizes the sound that these guys are making. So many bands came to mind while listening to the record... Dead Man Flats, The Something Brothers, the Reverend Horton Heat, Deadbolt, The Magic Mushroom Band, The Stooges, and The Colored Planks to name a few. But the Legendary Shack Shakers do not take after anybody, this is clear. While they may have several musical influences, the sound that they make is strictly their own with a distinctive flair of originality. In other words, while these guys may sound like other musical acts, there is NOBODY who sounds like them.

I wasn't sure where the album was going with the first track. Melungeon Melody is a 36 second percussion instrumental that doesn't seem to come from anywhere, and ends just as mysteriously. I guess "Agri-dustrial" is as good a definition as any...

It is an auspicious intro into Sin Eater, which is revered by many to be the "hit" on the record. It is a good song... Duane Dennison's opening guitar riff is very reminiscent of the opening to The Magic Mushroom Band's Don't Be Afraid. From there it's an in your face punk stomp free for all, with liquid guitar riffs and Colonel J.D. Wilkes's gritty vocals. The tune is catchy... Kind of like a cross between old Thin Lizzy and the Stooges.

The third tune, Sugar Baby nicely compliments Robert Johnson style blues with a subtle yet definitive banjo twang. It's got that just met the devil at the crossroads sound with it's haunting guitar power chords and poor boy lyrics. It would sound really nice blaring from the speakers of a large convertible while driving along Route 66.

Nightride is the next song on the album, and it also has that bluesy crossroads sound. The harmonica is yet another addition to the band's instrumental repertoire, and at this point I wouldn't be surprised to hear a trombone in the mix. At this point of the record I am beginning to get a sense of the Shack Shaker sound. It has a shade of darkness to it... Not necessarily evil, but there is definitely something there. I have begun to sense a looming shadow that lingers with the record's tone. It's there but I just can't seem to put my finger on it...

Dixie Iron Fist comes next. Those who grew up in Iowa might be familiar with The Something Brothers who hailed from the Quad Cities. This song is very reminiscent of them... It makes me want to lace up my army boots and kick some hippies in the teeth. Not that I would ever do that... Shit, I love hippies... But that seems to be a fitting metaphor that describes this song's sound. Brett Whitacre beats the hell out of his drums in this tune, and Mark Robertson slaps the shit out of his bass. In this critic's opinion, this might be the best song on the album.

A Deadbolt influence steps up in the next cut. Two Tickets to Hell has that satanic surfing sound to it, without ironically, the surf guitar. But man you can hear it in there... Must be that looming shadow on the phantom Stratocaster. These boys wind the song down slow and easy, something Deadbolt has never done. This song is good filler, but I wouldn't consider it worthy of mention on it's own accord.

In God Fearing People the Colonel is frying chicken. This is the song that Tommy initially heard that caused him to acquire this record, before he passed it on to me. It is a good song and the harmonica has never sounded better, and at times it sounds like a yard bird clucking, which is a cool touch. It has that on a farm feeling to it... A barnyard stomp if you will. If the southern rock outfit Blackfoot was still making records today, this might be what they would sound like. It's a really good song.

Greasy Creek is fast and mean. It personifies the Shack Shaker sound which at this point I realize is not even definable... But it does conjure images of hay bales, tractors, demons and the army boots I mentioned before. While The Beat Farmers are probably the closest thing to the Shack Shakers, in theory at least... They sound nothing like 'em. The Legendary Shack Shakers, while emulating many bands, have managed to make a sound that's fresh, pure and all their own. Greasy Creek might be the ultimate example of this.

Hammer and Tongs is the 9th song on the album. It kind of blends in nicely with the rest of the album, but doesn't jump out as one of the great cuts. It starts out very strong, but quickly fades into obscurity... And like Two Tickets to Hell it doesn't stand on it's own.

Now, Hog-Eyed Man not only is a great name for a song, but it actually is a great song. Stevie Vai's guitar influence is instantly evident... Is it just me or is that guitar talking... And what the hell is it saying?  This song defies everything else on the album. Sound wise it can't be compared to anything else the record offers, and I would say that in conjunction with the opening track, this song is the true definition of  'Agri-dustrial'.

Things slow down a bit with Dump Road Yodel. Once again the banjo makes a prominent appearance, and works nicely with the song's melody and Wilkes's yodels. If you had to pick one song off of this record to play for your mama, this might be it.

You know hobos... Are my heroes... They don't never pay no bills... Is how the next song starts. It's a catchy introduction to a very cool tune. It's got that lonesome railroad blues sound, and I think it would be very effective if played at an outdoor concert venue. It's got that wind in the hair sound to it... Which I guess makes sense, as it is a song about hobos. Hoboes are my Heroes is the first song to feature a banjo solo AND a guitar solo on the record which in itself is a tragedy, but funny as I mention that, I didn't even notice it until I heard it. So I guess the band gets a pass there. Hop a ride, hop a ride, hop a ride... Take a ride. You can always hop a ride when the wolf is at your door... This is a very good tune and maybe the only one that rivals Dixie Iron Fist as my favorite track on the album.

Everything I Ever Wanted to Do... comes next and is yet another song that has that Robert Johnson crossroads feel to it. Nothing new on this track, but I will say this... I really enjoy Wilkes's vocals. Not just on this tune, but all of them. They are catchy and unique, and fit perfectly with the sound that the band is producing.

The Hills of Hell are next, and this song is another that steps out of the mainstream of the album. It doesn't sound like any other song, and Robertson's bass is prominent among Wilkes's spoken lyrics. It is very reminiscent of The Colored Planks's Black Ferris Wheel, although I would be (pleasantly) surprised if the Shack Shakers have ever heard of that band. It rides along very smoothly... Like a haunted snowball headed for hell.

The Lost Cause features Wilkes on piano, a heavy snare drum beat and the sweet mellow sound of the Jew's Harp, which according to the credits is also played by Wilkes. It is the perfect song for it's place on the album. It reminds me of a song the band would play at the end of their set before coming out and belting a floor stomping three-song encore. The song is sweaty and tired... The perfect wrap up for a great album.

Finally Killswitch ends off where Melungeon Melody started... A 42 second ending to the record which perfectly compliments the way the album began. The first and final songs on Agri-dustrial are kind of like psychedelic buns which hold the album together... But there is no cheese on this sandwich. Just  good old fashioned boot stomping, chicken yodeling, railroad riding, devil fearing blues.

My recommendation: Buy this album NOW.


Tommy said...

Glad you liked it. I've let three or four people listen after I ran across it...they all love it.

Troy, if you've never listened to Hank Williams III, his stuff is the same tone, if not execution (the Shack Shakers unique sound is part of what I liked most...)

T.Church said...

I gotta admit, I haven't paid much attention to Hank III. I will definitely give it a ride. Once again Tommy, Thank you.

Anonymous said...

.... I loved that song that they had in a commercial a few years back......