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Lonesome Shack - City Man (2013)

When I was twelve years old I was in a fictitious band called Tangerine.  Though they didn’t know about it my four best friends were in it.  We put out one album called Garden Gnomes, which included songs titled, UFO, Mr. Candy Man, and Mothership.  Oh yeah, and it was a live album. Because at that time I loved live music, I don’t know why, I’d never been to a concert that didn’t feature Tickle Toon Typhoon or Tim Noah, but Iloved the idea of Live recorded albums.

I’m not twelve anymore, and Tangerine broke up after our drummer overdosed on heroin and we all went off to pursue other musical projects. Despite the fact that I’ve been to plenty of adult concerts, I haven’t really listened to more than the occasional live song in years.  Live music is often sloppy and unpolished, everyones vulnerabilities are laid out on stage for the audience to eviscerate.  Wrong notes can be played, voices can crack, and then you have that fucking audience applauding in the background.

On a case by case basis live recordings can be wonderful, not as a substitute to the polished and pristine meticulously planned and orchestrated studio albums, but as a audio snapshot in time.  It can be fun to listen to songs by an artist that sound exactly as they did the night you saw them live.  Let’s be honest, when friends come over you’re going to put on a studio album, and not a live recording.

Okay, so forget about everything I just said because despite my years of negative feelings toward live albums, one just assaulted my eardrums with sweet melodies and spontaneity unlike I’ve ever heard on a live album before.  Typically a live album is something a band releases to fulfill a contract obligation or as a way to rake in some easy drug money while touring Europe, you probably know all the songs by heart and buy the album only because you’re a fan.  Lonesome Shack’s City Man, is a live recording of brand new music.

After two previous “studio” albums, Slidin’ Boa and Bound To Die/Falling Down on the Floor, which were some of the best retro-blues you’ll hear anywhere, Lonesome Shack is releasing a new album recorded live at Seattle’s Cafe Racer.  The temptation is to say that City Man is delightful for a live album, which is false, it’s exceptional for any album.  It’s like a gritty, toe-tapping tape that was found when it washed up on the red clay banks of the Mississippi.

For their past releases the band was a two piece with Ben Todd stroking the neck of a guitar and Kristian Garrand setting the pace on the drums.  For City Man the band expanded to include Luke Bergman on bass, Andrew Swanson on Saxophone, and Ricky Castellanoz with the obligatory bottle drop in the early moments of the albums opener White Lightning.That bottle drop is what gets this whole thing started.  City Man is straight up gritty blues that sounds just like the classics.  It could be Robert Johnson’s devil owned hands petting the guitar, or Ledbelly’s voice blowing out an ancient microphone.  From the very beginning a tone is set and the album delivers on that promise all the way through.  It reaches a peak with the titular song City Man, where everyone is at their best it seems, including a whaling saxophone.

For me the blues has always been synonymous with a paint-less shack.  The wood rotten and impregnated with termites, moss fills the holes.  Though the great blues records were recorded in studios, I still have this vision of portable generators being pulled up to that shack and songs being birthed. It’s no coincidence that Lonesome Shack’s name immediately evokes this image, but the sound and tone of Lonesome Shack equally paints a similar picture.

These are all new songs, none of which the listener is familiar with so there are no preconceptions of how it is supposed to sound or how it originally sounded.  The live element of the album serves the music far more than it detracts from it, the faint chatter in the background adds atmosphere, and the applause after songs is far from overbearing.  It just feels like this is the way this music was intended to be enjoyed.

It should also be noted that this album was recorded live at Cafe Racer in Seattle on April 6th, just two months later that same cafe would become the sight of a horrific scene as Ian Stawicki shot and killed four people, he would later go on to kill another woman on 8th and Seneca before killing himself in West Seattle.  City Man is dedicated to the Racer family and those killed in the May 30th shoots.  It’s a fitting dedication.

This is a truly wonderful album for any fan of the blues, or just music fans.  It’s live element can be quirky at times, but wholly satisfying.  You can buy the album in all forms (vinyl, cassette, cd, download) at lonesomeshack.com.  They’ll be on a West Coast and South West tour in November, you can find their upcoming shows here.  And tonight (October 26th) you should cancel all your plans and head out to Cafe Racer to see Lonesome Shack with previous guest Shana Cleveland with her all girl surf rock band La Luz. (source)

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