The debut album of Dieselhed mainstay Virgil Shaw, the minimalist country-rock Quad Cities amply demonstrates the breadth of Shaw's empathetic songwriting ability. If ever there was an heir apparent to country-rock founder Gram Parsons, surely it is him.
The vocal similarities between Shaw and the former Byrds guitarist are uncanny. Shaw's strumming, however, echoes more of a folk tradition than Parsons' traditional country sound. Complementing Shaw's six-string are Jeff Palmer of Mommyheads, Greg Freeman of Pell Mell, and bandmate Danny Heifetz of Dieselhed and Mr. Bungle. The album starts off slowly, with the plaintiff wails of a metaphorical "Water Colors." Track by track, the album's stripped-down simplicity melds well with Shaw's voice. The nuts and bolts version of "Carving Soap," though, doesn't quite live up to the fuller version on Dieselhed's Shallow Water Blackout. "Eureka," however, is vintage Shaw: nostalgic, mundane, and inexplicably beautiful. Singing about building doll houses and burning them down and writing his name in his own clothes so as not to lose them, Shaw's wittily self-effacing lyrics betray his irrepressible ingenuity. Finally, the last track, "For Your Precious Love," deals Dieselhed fans a bit of a surprise. It's a love song, devoid of irony, sarcasm, or witticisms. The song works well, but it's hard not to expect him, given his songwriting history, to pull out the rug from underneath.