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Published: 2014/05/27
by Brian Robbins

Lonesome Shack
More Primitive

Alive Naturalsound Records

Lonesome Shack’s latest album may be titled More Primitive, but the fact of the matter is it’s the Shack’s best-sounding studio recording to date.

Don’t worry – all the stuff you love about Lonesome Shack is still here: the raw grit ‘n’ grease; the marrow-thumping grooves; the sepia-toned time machine vignettes, clouded with 2-AM-in-the-juke-joint smoke and spilt hooch. It’s just that the mix on More Primitive sets you down right in the middle of those scenes, loose floorboards under your shoes and all.

Bassist Luke Bergman – blessed with a knack for making his presence felt rather than heard – is a major factor in the added dimensions of More Primitive. Bergman (who made his recording debut as a full-time Shacker on 2012’s live City Man ) nestles his dry-toned basswomp in between drummer Kristian Garrard and guitarist/vocalist Ben Todd, giving both of them room to roam. Listen to the trio on the title cut: it’s Bergman’s rock-solid pulse that allows Garrard to snag the between-the-beat groove (occasionally challenging himself, but never missing a lick) while Todd’s guitar bounces along, shimmering like hot gasoline as it bumps fenders with his vocal.

This, boys and girls, is a lesson in doing so much with so little … something Lonesome Shack are undisputed masters of. Listen to this thing and dig the little bits:

It’s Garrard’s addition of a touch of snare at the 3:33 mark of the opener “Wrecks” that ratchets up the tension a shitload of notches (that’s all it takes sometimes); the rhythm of “Big Ditch” is almost-but-not-quite Bo Diddley – Todd’s guitar, however, is as full of twitches and angular jerks as Neal Cassady in his Prankster jumpsuit doing his hammer dance; Bergman draws off and lets fly with a yo-yo-action bass move towards the end of “Medicine” that sums up all the weary coolness of the previous five minutes; and there’s a hint of echo – just a hint – applied to Todd’s vocal on “Old Dream” that makes all the difference in the world.

If I had to pick one tune for you to listen to (knowing it would be a slam-dunk conversion to the world of Lonesome Shack once you did), I’d probably go for “Die Alone”. You need to remember that Lonesome Shack aren’t imitators of old bluesmen; they are pioneers of their own space who pay homage to those who came before them – with respect and love for the music. Ben Todd growls and snarls and wails his vocal on “Die Alone” because he’s there folks – he’s living it and feeling it and aching and, yeah: in that moment, he’s dying alone. The guitar lurches along, all sinewy and stuttering – matched by Bergman’s bass, which does its own pondering of life while rumbling out a groove. And Garrard’s drum work is a great summation of what he’s all about: a bluesman with a jazzbo soul – constantly doling out the unexpected, but never, ever, letting go of the beat.

Lonesome Shack continues to evolve, but they also prove that they knew who they were right from the beginning. More Primitive is simply more Shack – and that’s a good thing.

*****

Brian Robbins practices his yo-yo moves over at www.brian-robbins.com

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