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Published: 2012/12/12
by Brian Robbins

Electric Shepherd
The Imitation Garden

Self-released

If Howlin Rain got this year rolling with their early-70s hard rock vibe-infused The Russian Wilds, then you could say that Electric Shepherd is bringing 2012 to a psychedelic close by bravely grabbing a handful of knobs on the same time machine and sending themselves back even further with The Imitation Garden.

Except they’re not. They’re right here – well, San Francisco, actually – right now.

But the vibe of the past is there, for sure: you could imagine The Imitation Garden being blasted from the rafters of San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall at 1966’s Trip Festival or blaring out of the open door of Ken Kesey’s backhouse at his place in La Honda while Neil Cassady does his cool jerking and writhing dance on the grass. This is the sort of music that turns the most state-of-the-art featherweight ear buds into a pair of vintage weigh-a-ton Electro-Voice Regency cabinets.

In short, The Imitation Garden is a trip – a very good trip.

It should be noted that Electric Shepherd is only a trio – at least that’s what the liner notes claim. I haven’t looked up any pictures of the band yet to see how many limbs they have (at least six apiece is my guess). This I can tell you: bassist Tommy Anderson, drummer Sonny Pearce, and guitarist/vocalist Mark Nelsen crank out some amazing sound amongst the three of them – not just in terms of volume, but rather in depth and dynamics. They use their ears as much as their hands and feet; their music is a weave of action and reaction – the kind of magic that transformed The Warlocks into something else.

Right off the bat, the first slice of “Totem” (there are four in total throughout the album) feels like a continued exploration of Hendrix’ “Third Stone From The Sun”, with fat laser bass and tumbling drums punching a hole big enough for the multi-colored guitar vapors to drift through. “Into The Forest, Father/Angels (Reprise)” is another example of all-for-one/one-for-all adventuring. For the first couple of minutes the bass and drums move in tandem on a slow, sure-footed crawl while Nelsen’s guitar shines light onto the soundscape around them. Eventually the song’s pulse begins to pick up; the bass and drums descend into the groove while Nelsen remains above on watch. Pearce morphs (somehow) from cavernous toms to driving jungle rhythms; Anderson burrows deeper and deeper until he hits the tune’s thick, molten core, pausing to bathe in it slow and luxuriously around the 4:45 mark. Bass goo reigns supreme for a bit; eventually the drums and guitar return to gather the groove up and take it back to the mothership. (That noise you’re hearing? That’s your marrow sizzling.)

“Heaven Don’t Need” takes its time emerging from the shadows; once it does – look out. (I kid you not; you never went so far in 12 minutes in your life.) “The Escapist” is another example of epic dynamics, with Anderson’s cat burglar bass leading the way. Pearce’s drums tower over the proceedings – catch the cymbal work between 2:10 and 2:30 – and Nelsen vacillates between stark flecks of wah guitar and full-fledged freakout. “Imitation Gardens” might be busted into two parts on the track listing, but it’s one long sojourn into what makes Electric Shepherd good, with ports of call that include The Land Of The Smoky Drift, Tolkienville, Pagetown, Bonzo World, and Bass Wallow – with a quick stop on a sandy Venusian beach.

With The Imitation Garden Electric Shepherd has pulled off the nifty feat of capturing the heart, soul, and vibe of a long-ago music scene without resorting to imitation or clichés.

It’s almost like these crazy bastards are creating new history – fresh sounds from the past. Except that wouldn’t be history, would it?

Never mind: in the world of Electric Shepherd, anything’s possible.

***

Brian Robbins does all his time-traveling over at www.brian-robbins.com

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