by Sean Jewell:
Fresh off the release of their new album, and 20 year anniversary, The Legendary Shack Shakers –whose lead singer was deemed “Best Frontman” in Rolling Stone‘s coverage of the Americana Music Association Festival in Nashville (Nashville’s been sayin’ so since 2001, btw)– will be performing in Seattle on October 3oth.
What’s shocking about Shack Shakers, besides their live performances, is how they create a mythical world of Southern Culture divining influence from the snake handling Pentecost as well as the magic of electromagnetic microwave radiation, the invisible force that we can all tune into with the right medium, should we choose to receive its message. It’s haunting, and as beautiful as the ominous anvil cloud of an oncoming tornado can be. Their effect on the listener is somewhere between the psuedo-Science-Fiction of Ray Bradbury and the grim reality of Faulkner. Wilkes, and members past and present of The Legendary Shack Shakers seem to be southern musicologists, a traveling medicine show, selling snake oil and bottling new superstitions, and old folk remedies along the way. Some of their best tracks are not even tracks, but mood setting devices: the field recorded sounds of the opener “Cow Tools”; the speak n spell spooky introduction to “Cold” called “Grinning Man”; the mid-album interlude “The Dog Was Dead,” a story from Billy Bob Thornton about roadcrew and roadkill – which sounds simple, until it forces you to confront your own eventuality.
Musically The Southern Surreal is, well, southern too, but they don’t just apply southern rock guitar licks, or banjo as necessary; here The Shack Shakers again have their own gothic. The constant reverberation of the electric guitar boxes your ears like waves of southern summer heat. The drums and bass strike dead, flat blows, like sticks in the delta mud; the whole sound rises up like a dense, swampy fog. You can’t help but envision being lost in the mangroves and cypress, the heat and the steam, and if that weren’t enough, JD Wilkes’s constant cadence and carrying on about the dead, the lost, and the impenetrable landscape of self defeat mired in self fulfilling prophecy, comes in howls and wails, pitch perfect shouts, and megaphone growls. The album ebbs and floods with spoken word, boogie, old-time music, hill country blues, and jukehouse sounds.
This is psyche-billy, superstition boogie, southern folklore music.