Under Review: Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers – AgriDustrial

If there’s one thing I really can’t stand, it’s when extremely unique bands write run-of-the-mill rock songs.  It’s not that the songs are particularly bad; in fact they usually best songs written by bands that normally do rock songs.  The songs just seem like a waste of the band’s good name and reputation.  Even groups I consider my favorites, like the Asylum Street Spankers (with “Antifreeze”) and The Decemberists (“When The War Came”) have fallen victim to penning songs that stand out in their respective catalogues by not standing out.  On their new album, AgriDustrial, Nashville’s Legendary Shack*Shakers lead with a few songs that whitewash their swampy psychobilly into a southern style of average riff rock.  The record is the band’s sixth and, unlike previous albums that explored more worldly influences, AgriDustrial finds the band mostly sticking with what they know (sometimes a little too well).  The first proper song, “Sin Eater,” is a driving, slide guitar-licking menace, but it really doesn’t go anywhere.  Neither does their interpretation of “Sugar Baby,” which follows right behind that inauspicious beginning.  By this point, we’re barely six minutes into the album, and so far nothing has stuck.  On previous outings, especially 2004’s Believe, Colonel JD Wilkes and his gang have never waited this long to show off their stuff.  The Shack*Shakers’ previous albums all burst out of the gate with the fury of a mechanical bull.  At this rate, AgriDustrial might seem like it’ll be the band’s first out-and-out disappointment, but then the other dozen songs plant a boot in the saloon doors.

“Good Feeling People” and “Dixie Iron Fist” finally pick up the pace, with hard-rocking rhythms and, gasp, incredibly catchy hooks.  These songs, along with a few others on the album, show off the band’s more straightforward rockabilly side but, as any long-time fan knows, there’s much more to the Shack*Shakers than that.  The band’s signature brand of country death stomp arrives in “Hammer And Tongs,” a tale of love and blacksmithing.  There’s the punishing distorted squeal of Wilkes’ harmonica in the interlude “The Hog-Eyed Man,” and “Hoboes Are My Heroes,” which pretty much explains itself.  There’s a great amount of Shack*Shaker-y attitude in “Everything I Wanted To Do,” and the spoken word piece “The Hills Of Hell” recounts some gruesome deaths in the Bluegrass State.  There are two knockout songs toward the end of AgriDustrial that more than make up for the album’s bland opening.  The first is “Dump Road Yodel” which, yes, features some high plains yodeling.  The song is short, but it packs just enough in its brief running time to make it a standout.  The other is the final song, “The Lost Cause,” one of the few slow songs on the album (and in the Shack*Shakers career altogether).  A 24-bar blues waltz, the piano-led “The Lost Cause” puts songs by rootsy upstarts like Delta Spirit and Deer Tick to shame.  This isn’t Wilkes getting soft; it’s him reflecting on tough times and the tougher people braving those times.  Though they’ve only been together for about 12 years, Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers continue to make themselves indispensible by producing albums that, while they might not seem that impressive at first, are sure to wow those loyal enough to stick with them.

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~ by E. on April 30, 2010.

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