january 2009

Big Shanty
King Mojo Records

Batten down the hatches, Big Shanty's back in town. What that means is a full-on scorched earth assault of searing, buzzsaw guitars and thundering rhythm section in service to the Big one's rough-hewn vocal declamations. Among the estimable musicians on hand to support his efforts are a few of those who made his previous album, Ride With the Wind, a memorable outing, including the honorable Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), guitarist Liz Melendez and Scott T. Robertson doing double duty as producer and drummer, plus Hydra founding member Spencer Kirkpatrick joining in on guitar. Keyboardist Rick Phillips shows up a few times, too, notably right off the bat adding some honky-tonk inspired piano to the self-referential barnburner, "Big Shanty, From L.A. to Hollywood," returning later to inject some bluesy Hammond organ to the crunch and grind pulse and spitfire guitar work of "Stop Pushing Me" ("can't take it with you," Big Shanty growls in what is something of a guiding philosophy on Sold Out, "but there's no harm in trying"). Fans of malevolent slide work of the Shanty sort will find much to chew on here, with a high point of sorts occurring on "They Say It's Raining," an angry chronicling of a soured romance's detritus, given a sharply sinister feel by Shanty's bitter vocal and his howling slide's cosmic wail. Though these blues tend to be electric and raucous, Big Shanty does have his tender side and it surfaces on the atmospheric, Delta-style blues ballad "Tybee Town," a warm reminiscence of a good place to be where "the beer is free, they say the women are too." In addition to his own evocative slide guitar adding robust, poignant feeling, the arrangement is further fleshed out by Kirkpatrick's rain stick, which sounds like the waves breaking on the white sand beach the song extols, and Col. Hampton's sinewy electric sitar lines snaking around Shanty's slide. Melendez gets into the act in a big way on the final cut, keying the topical "Uncle Sam Go To Rehab" with roaring, fuzzed out, foreboding electric guitar riffing as Robertson's drums provide the bottom ballast while Big Shanty rages against corporate and government freewheelers enriching themselves as Main Street goes down the tubes; the tune is a timely corollary to Ride With the Wind's "Killing Fields," wherein our hero lambasted politicians who send young people off to die to further their own agendas. His suggestion that "Uncle Sam gotta go to rehab/get a new attitude" makes this the first song to address both the causes of and solution to the economic meltdown. Too bad it had to be written at all, but at least in Big Shanty the subject finds an eloquent, firebrand spokesman. Sold Out triumphs in a landslide. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024