The Legendary Shack Shakers


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Shifting further away from the frantic blues and punkabilly than on their last album, the Shack Shakers morph into a more European, even Gypsy approach on much of this release. The band's third effort retains all the wild-eyed, frenetic, unhinged qualities that have by now become its calling card. Adding occasional piano, fiddle, horns, and banjo doesn't soften or dilute the overdriven intensity. Rather, it is heightened, as the barely half-hour disc careens and bounces along so breathlessly that most listeners wouldn't want the album to last any longer. Lead singer/harp player J.D. Wilkes remains the main attraction; he writes or co-writes all the songs and his often demonic vocals and frenzied harp shenanigans make this somewhat of a one-man project with lots of guests. The "Wipe Out"-styled scream that kicks off the opening "Ichabod!" sets the tone for this nonstop, breakneck-paced, often humorous set that touches bases with Tom Waits' twisted carnival barking and oompah waltz inclinations ("Nellie Bell"), Stan Ridgway's cracked spoken/sung technique ("Monkey in the Doghouse"), and even Yello's Boris Blank, especially on the spooky baritone Wilkes drops into on "Bottom Road." When the hyperactive rhythms subside for the jazzy "Bible, Candle and Skull," the tense undercurrent and bizarre lyrics still won't let the listener relax. Reverend Horton Heat and Jello Biafra add their talents to a handful of tracks, but this remains Wilkes' freaky sideshow, and he is mighty impressive. He also co-produces with bassist Mark Robertson, and it's here that the album is most successful. The duo mixes American and European goth sensibilities with the musty roots of country and blues along with the live-fast, die-young energy of early rock with dynamic results. Wilkes ties the disparate influences together by not taking himself seriously and keeping the tracks so tightly packed that by the time you figure out his direction, the next one is clobbering you. It's a wild, rowdy, heart-pounding ride -- but one definitely worth hanging on for.

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