by Sean Jewell ::
On their latest album The Switcher Lonesome Shack‘s sound is even more primitive, to it’s benefit. There is nobody in Seattle right now who elicits a sound quite like Dandelion Gold studio’s Johnny Goss. Responsible for evincing the raw edges on record for acts like La Luz, Wild Powwers, and Lonesome Shack. A lesser engineer might fall vicitim to the idea that a better sound means a more quality one, but true to his own ear he made Wild Powwers growl and thunder, La Luz boom like crashing surf, and Lonesome Shack sound –as their first album title indicated– More Primitive.
The warm, warped, ribbon mic distortion of Ben Todd‘s singing exists as a wraith instrument, no more the centerpiece than any other in the trio (Luke Bergman, Bass / Kristian Garrard, Drums). A luthier in his own right, Lonesome Shack’s support beam is Todd’s guitar, a heavily modified vintage Teisco style solid body he plays with an unorthodox finger style. It’s this style that recalls the drone of North Africa, familiar to most Americans as the sound of the Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
Lonesome Shack’s music is clearly rooted in American Blues, specifically the Mississippi Delta kind. (Think the vicious snarl of Hubert Sumlin’s improvised guitar backing Howlin’ Wolf‘s bark, but rhythmically more along the lines of the mysterious Robert Petway –a Delta bluesman with just 16 tracks on record, who disappeared into time during the late years of the Great African American Migration.) But it’s easy to get lost in conversations of influence and appropriation on such matters. What’s been illustrated in several writers trying, unsuccessfully, over the last few years to pin down that influence is — Lonesome Shack transcends that. Like the cover of The Switcher, elegant but simple, primitive, and full of negative space, Lonesome Shack occupies a lane all it’s own, built on sounds that haven’t been heard, in the vein of Junior Kimbrough, or R.L. Burnside, but without pastiche or pantomime.
That sound, from somewhere between North African wedding music, and Junior’s Juke Joint in Chulahoma Mississippi, gets the record jumping on the first track “To The Floor” with a compelling bass drone, and a driving beat that causes the hip to dip and the mind to drop into gear. “Diamond Man” has a mesmerizing poly-rhythmic riff, and band in pocket making a sound fitting of Todd’s call “I’m a pure diamond man”. Between that track and “Dirty Traveler” the theme of the record arises, a lost man found. Grimey, patient love songs backed by strange time signatures.
Chemicals kicks of the B side of the double LP. “I think the meds are kickin’ in / it ain’t no sin”, this party song will have you dancing a little boogie if you weren’t already. “True Vine” is another love song with a heavy, marching beat filled with Todd’s guitar alliterations, and a touch of bell and block on the drums. “Stuff From A Cup” is an electric ballad about getting back together with friends.
On perhaps the best side, side C, “Sugar Farm” displays the increasingly complex sound of a formula which can sound deceptively simple. By the time you get to “Mind Regulator” and “Mushin Dog” every clapboard in the Lonesome Shack is rattling, it’s foundations vibrating like the snare of a drum. Todd and crew are primal, funky, and futuristic at once. The beat races to defy time, the song is so textural you can almost feel Todd’s fingers flying, but for the life of me I can’t imagine how the song is played on guitar. I’m reminded of the wedding music/psychedelic blues of Mali guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly.
There are two traditional blues style songs on the album. One played traditionally, in a John Lee Hooker style call and response between Todd and guitar “Pain On Me” and the gospel number “Safety Zone” gone full blues-bop.
The album slows to a crawl on “Junk Train” and “Blood”, tracks that leave room for brilliant improvisational drums and bass, and add to the mythic style of The Switcher.
To watch Lonesome Shack is an experience all it’s own. A jazz-tight trio making juke joint boogie, Todd’s lengthy fingers crawling over his frets, his right hand picking, strumming mysteriously, and the inevitable floating boogie he’ll break into; a flatfooted shuffle, a writhe and twist of his lenghty figure, a haunted blessing. The trio of Ben, Luke Bergman on bass, and Christian Garrard on drums dependably command an audience and create a mood right for drinking and dancing. Catch them live on The Switcher Tour down the West Coast and through the Southwest in July. The Switcher is out June 24th available through Blind Blind Tiger.