Shannon & the Clams

Dreams in the Rat House

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Shannon and the Clams' third album, 2013's Dreams in the Rathouse, signals a tiny step forward for the trio. Recorded over the course of a year in cool places like a cabin in the woods and Nobunny's practice space, the album sounds tougher and stronger than previous efforts, Shannon Shaw's vocals have a more powerful presence, and the songs are better overall. Not that there was much wrong with the jumpy, scruffy late-'50s/early-'60s rock & roll-worshiping records they had made in the last couple years. Dreams just seems to put it all together in a way those albums didn't quite accomplish. From the opening "Hey Willy," which gets things started in a happy, bouncy fashion with some excellent guitar and vocal work from Cody Blanchard, to the blown-out girl group in a wind tunnel "I Know," which ends the album with one of Shaw's best vocals, the record is all high points with precious few dips in quality. The album never settles into any one groove, throwing out doo wop dreamers, tender late-night girl group ballads, a few pounding rockers, and a genius stab at garage rock (the ferocious "Bed Rock"). There are a couple times when the band's frenetic playing gets them in trouble and things go off the rails a bit, but mostly they keep things under control and deliver the trashy goods. Blanchard and Shaw's vocal interplay is much improved, too, and while they sound excellent on their own (Blanchard snappy and raw; Shaw with a booming, pushed-close-to-the-breaking-point intensity), they sound made for each other on the songs where they share vocals. The ballads sounds especially good; when the tempo slows and Blanchard's twangy guitar has some space to play, it gives Shaw's heartbroken vocals a chance to truly shine. Check her out on "If I Could Count" or "Unlearn" -- she could have been a Shangri-La, no problem. That she doesn't totally overshadow the rest of the band, and that the songwriting matches her vocal prowess, is a testament to how good Shannon and the Clams are on Dreams in the Rathouse. Quite a few people are doing this kind of music in 2013; precious few are doing it this well.

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