Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shawn James & The Shapeshifters – The Gospel According to Shawn James & The Shapeshifters

These guys have the distinction of having the longest album title I've ever reviewed, although at least it makes sense and tells you what you are listening to, unlike those bizarro Fiona Apple album titles that make you just want to grab her and shake her.  These guys also have the distinction of putting out one of the more unique releases I've heard in a while, which is why I'm writing this.

Unique doesn't always mean good, but in this case, it is very good.  I could try to explain the mash up of styles and influences that I hear in this band, for they are legion, but I'll just say this is a hybrid between bad ass and “fuck yeah”.  Some of the tracks on this album have a straight up delta blues feel, some of them are just straight ahead rock n roll, but regardless of what they are drawing from, they are all very good.  This is the first non-metal album that I've heard in a while that just grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention.

This is heavy music in a really good way.  You start with Shawn James, who plays guitar and sings.  Then you add in a bass player and a drummer, and you have a pretty typical lineup at that point for a heavy band.  Lots of bands rock that 3 piece vibe.  However, in this case, you also throw in a banjo and a fiddle, and let all that swirl through blues, folk and rock filters.  I haven't seen this band live yet, but I'd bet a lot of money that they play it all loud, too.  And then you listen closely to the lyrics and all of the things going on between the instruments and you marvel at how wonderfully it all fits together.  The best part of my job as a reviewer is that I get to stumble across music like this.

As great as all of this is, the songs are very well written.  The lyrics all tell a story.  The vocals are clear so you can actually hear that story.  The music rocks.  What's not to like?

The songs are all good, but there are a few that rise above good and deserve to be mentioned.  Album opener “No Gods” gets everything boiling with a nice Delta groove and instantly makes your ears perk up and realize that this band isn't something you hear every day.  “Lost” is a beautiful, haunting piece of music that really shows the chops of this band on every level.  “Lake of Fire” is a brooding meditation on choices in life and how they can play out.  And “Lilith” is a really awesome song about the first woman, or whoever it is that you believe Lilith to be.

This release is the complete package, featuring a unique band that knows how to showcase all of their powers, and 10 songs that really let them do exactly that.  Check them out if you find yourself needing something heavy and just a little bit different.


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