Th' Legendary Shack Shakers
“MTV killed Rock ‘N Roll”
This bold and provocative statement was proudly espoused half way through my meeting of minds with the quirky and brazen alternative/punk folkers of Nashville’s Col. JD Wilkes fronted; Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers at the Roadhouse in Manchester. It epitomises the exuberant way they have of expressing candidness and their heartfelt passion for music. In the opening statement bassist Mark Robinson was responding to a question about what they would change about the modern music industry, as he and the Colonel felt that music videos are pointless and are spoiling the profession. I took issue with this; surely they are ok if done honesty and respect for the viewer? To which the lead man nodded nonchalantly and replied:
“Yeah, I mean, I like the ‘At The Drive In’ one where they have a collage of shots of them live. That is what our video would be like if we did one.”
He thought for a moment before coming up with a slogan that would make him hot property in this time of electioneering;
“I wish we could go back to producing art for art’s sake. It is all about the money these days.”
The first response from relatively recent recruit; the colourful tattoo laden guitarist John Lee was elicited when he responded to my enquiry about how well their sound is going down with the music lovers of the world. Their music has a southern American folk come C & W base, before exploding into diversions of punk, rock n roll, blues and finished off with a tinge of metal and is most pronounced in their zany and invigorating live shows;
“It has gone down really well. I mean, I would say that it is world folk that we produce, so we have a common ground. Sometimes we go down better in places like Detroit and New York than in the South (of the U.S.A.), as we are unique to the people in cities like that.”
With Blondie’s ‘One Way or Another’ bellowing out in the background it was time to tear into the meaty topic of their records. Latest album ‘Believe’; the guys' debut on Yep Roc is a mixture of serious issues shrouded in a fun bag of whacky accompaniments and playful, yet powerful vocals that highlights their genre busting approach making music. I was intrigued to discover how, in their minds, it differed from previous album Cockadoodledon’t (released through Bloodshot Records) and how they were finding life on Yep Roc? JD took the lead;
“Well, the two albums are both the same in the respect
that they were completed before we approached record labels; offering them
up as a no compromise package and they were both accepted. We'd had personnel
shake ups, so couldn’t really do too much pre-production collaboration
on either record.”
‘Our next album will be different’ asserted Mark.
I was curious at this point, as to how they intended to strike the balance between getting down to working on a new offering and preaching the wisdom contained in 'Believe' to the world? J.D. came over quite sullen and expressed bemusement at the mechanics of the music industry;
“It is hard because that is classed as a 2004 release so it isn’t getting much of a hearing now’.
I decided to try and redress the balance by requesting that they verbally dissect a couple of intriguing numbers from their current offering. First up, and for me the number that epitomizes their eccentricity is ‘Cussing In Tongues’, especially the delectable rooster sounds concealed within. After a collective chortle J.D. dispersed the cloud of doubt in my mind;
“You know what that is? It is a Speak N’ Say"
On seeing the look puzzlement on my face similar to that of a The Weakest Link participant responding to a question in which the answer is The Polyphonic Spree, he kindly elaborated;
“It’s a game for kids where a crank turntable lands on an animal and makes an associated noise. A voice announces; aaaannndd the rooster says…..’
In order to repress thoughts about my deprived childhood I moved onto a different sort of song completely, the folk blues ballad of ‘The Pony To Bet’ that sees the guys slow down and take on a slightly more mainstream feel, filling hearts with melancholy by proffering a tale about the dreary topic of getting old. Or have I missed the point? J.D.’s face lit up proudly like the Olympic torch before he took on his reply;
“Well, it could be about that. More specifically, it is about a guy who lives near me who gets completely drunk and sits on his horse all day, everyday.
Of course, there is someone like that in every neighbourhood is there not?
It was time for the guys to dust off the cobwebs gathered by sitting around, as they went onto produce a rasping punk spiked set; feeding off the fiery and fun spirit of Col. JD Wilkes. He bounced around the stage of the hallowed hall of the Roadhouse with the energetic exuberance of a deranged Southern U.S.A. type person. In fact, his antics were akin to those you would anticipate Cletus from ‘The Simpsons’ to produce on hearing news that his wife; Brandeen has won Mother of the Year award for showering love upon their extended family.
Words: David Adair
"Believe" is out now
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