Are you looking for music that’s really out there and mixes a bunch of genres together? Well then The Legendary Shack Shakers are exactly what you’re looking for. I’ve reviewed a lot of genre defying music here on the site, but I don’t think of them hold a candle to the way The Legendary Shack Shakers blend so many different genres together. The primary sounds you’ll hear them mix together are southern gothic, swamp rock, blues, rockabilly, rock ‘n roll and country music. The Legendary Shack Shakers are made up of J.D. Wilkes (vocals, harmonica, banjo), Mark Robertson (upright bass, electronic bass, backing vocals), Rod Hamdallah (guitar) and Brett Whitacre (drums). Together they create music that is impossible to label and yet also leaves you wanting more. That’s what I took away from their new album The Southern Surreal.
“Cow Tools” is a quick guitar-only introduction that plays right into the actual first song on the album, “Mud.” Right away you get a great taste of the band’s signature swamp rock/country sound. It’s multilayered sound is like a smorgasbord for the ears. The song has a fantastic closer with the drum play and seamlessly transitions into the next song, “MisAmerica.” It’s a rocking song with fantastic instrumentation. It has a very noticeable garage rock sound that makes for a fun song and the standout of it is without a doubt the great guitar solo from Hamdallah. A short and eerie introduction titled “Grinning Man” preludes “Cold.” The song is very much in the southern gothic vein, but it’s combined with a rockabilly sound that makes for an actually catchy sound. I never thought I would call a southern gothic inspired song catchy, but there you go.
“Dead Bury the Dead” seems to be about letting people who are dead inside take care themselves. Or it could be a play on a quote from Jesus in the Bible. It’s a song very open to interpretation. However you interpret it, the instrumentation is great. I would describe the sound as punk rock meets the blues. It’s amazing how this band can combine so many genres together and create unique and engaging music. One of the more country songs on the album is “The One That Got Away.” It’s about reflecting back on the one who got away and how they’re now out of reach. The infectious guitar licks combined with the solid lyrics make for a pretty good song. The fast-paced, rockabilly tune “Young Heart, Old Soul” is next. It’s loud, quick and fun. You will at the very least be moving your feet to this song by the end of it and I imagine at live shows this will be really popular. It’s a song you can’t help but dance to. “Fool’s Truth” is another loud, fast and short song with plenty of harmonic and drums.
This introduces one of the coolest moments on the album, which is “The Dog Was Dead.” It’s not a song, but a spoken word track featuring Billy Bob Thornton telling a story with some spacey guitar play in the background. The story is about a 19 year-old man working on the patch crew on the highway department coming across a dying dog on the road. His crew said they needed to take it to a vet or something, but the man said the dog was dead. Next he took his shovel and put the dog out of its misery, to the chagrin of the crew. Once again he reiterated the dog was dead and was just something he had to do, even if he didn’t want to. Some will say this was a pointless inclusion on the album, but to me it fits perfectly with the whole theme of the record. I thought it was really well done and Thornton was the perfect choice.
“Down to the Bone” is the type of song that will sound much better live than on an album. So I’m not sure if I would have put this song on The Southern Surreal. It’s not a bad song by any stretch and it’s certainly good, but I just think it’s more suited for live performances. The Legendary Shack Shakers get loud and in your face again with “Christ Alrighty.” The instrumentation is absolutely fantastic on this song. The harmonica play from Wilkes really stands out and impressed me the most about the song. “Demon Rum” sounds like something Hank Williams would sing if he were still alive today. It’s a drinking song about demon rum not letting go of you. It has an old timey sound with the piano and taps. This song is short, but definitely one of the better tracks of the album.
My favorite track on the album hands down though is “The Buzzard and the Bell.” The sound is southern gothic meets blue grass meets rock and it’s just flat-out awesome. The banjo play is top-notch. I could listen to this song over and over again. My only wish is that it was longer, as the song is only one minute and 51 seconds long. The Southern Surreal closes out with “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a song about a man born with bad luck. It’s a southern gothic/rock song that starts out with some heavy drum and percussion play, which is appropriate considering the pace of the song is noticeably slow. It creates an almost psychedelic-like feeling in the listener. The song is definitely an odd one to be the closing song, but then again perhaps this appropriate for album like this one.
The Legendary Shack Shaker’s new album The Southern Surreal is weird and bizarre, but in a good way. There are so many different sounds going on in this album, yet the band pulls it all together and makes it work. Despite the album having a listed 15 tracks, it’s only around 35 minutes long. This left me wanting a little more for sure, which is odd to say about an album with this many tracks. Without a doubt the instrumentation is the biggest pro of this album and band. Their sound is magnificently unique. I only wish the lyrics could live up to it’s height too, as I felt it a little lacking in this area. Regardless, The Southern Surreal is a really good album. It’s certainly a strange journey you need to hear for yourself.