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Shack*Shakers by Agnes Barton-Sabo

BELIEVE  (YepRoc) • Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers

Someone once described early rockabilly as sounding like the band finished recording "then went home and killed their parents." That is as good a portrayal as any of a Shack*Shakers record. On their debut album, CockAdoodleDon’t, Colonel J.D. Wilkes and his partner at that time, Joe Buck, captured the lunatic, Southern Gothic intensity of their live shows--with just the two of them overdubbing all the parts. Brother Buck has departed the fold but fear not: for Believe, the Colonel has brought in a new band, along with a few ringers to once again bottle the (white) lightning. In the process he adds some interesting variety to the psycho-billy of the debut.

Anyone who has seen the band live--and that should be everyone who appreciates brilliant theater--knows that frontman Wilkes is fearless, in an Iggy Pop, self-mutilating way. But that fearlessness extends to his musical excursions as well, asserting itself here in what might be the world’s first Klezmer-billy tune, the clarinet-fueled "Agony Wagon." The mellifluous title gives an indication of the Colonel’s way with a phrase, and he proves it is no fluke with lines like, "On an A.C. tractor reapin’ reefer on a hill / Got an inverted cross of lights on his grill" ("Cussin’ In Tongues"), and "Tobacco flowing in mayfields of umber waves / And it’s only getting’ darker in this County of Graves" ("County of Graves").

You may have figured out by now that the Shack*Shakers are no typical cow-punks. As well as an evocative, literate lyricist, Wilkes is a serious musician: a fine harmonica player and a talented singer. He also brings a far-reaching set of influences to the party--witness the Waits-ish "Where's The Devil...When You Need Him?" and the ZZ Top groove of "All My Life To Kill," not to mention polkas, the aforementioned Klezmer, and a waltz. Influences and musicianship aside, this record will rock your socks off and the Shack*Shaker’s live show will most certainly make you a believer.
• Michael Ross

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cockadoodledont.com (shack*shakers online)    

yeproc.com       photographer agnes barton-sabo

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