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Review of the new LP from Lonesome Shack, City Man

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"Wumpwumpwumpwumpwumpwump go the drums; the guitar makes a noise like it’s hocking up a ball of Chesterfield phlegm;karangarangarang goes a beer bottle as it hits the floor – and off goes Lonesome Shack, ripping up “White Lightning”, the opening track on their new live album City Man.

Recorded in April of 2012 at Seattle, WA’s Café Racer, City Man finds Lonesome Shack’s original core duo of drummer Kristian Garrard and guitarist/vocalist Ben Todd joined by bassist Luke Bergman. Bergman’s presence is often more felt than heard: he muscles up the Shack’s raw country blues sound that Todd and Garrard are known for without reshaping it, patrolling the territory that lies somewhere between the bass drum pedal and the thumb of Ben Todd’s picking hand. At times Bergman is so in synch with his bandmates that you might not know there was a bass there … except for the fact that Lonesome Shack’s grooves on City Man often feel like they’re about to take out Café Racer’s walls at any moment.

Garrard and Todd do that thing they do so well: take ahold of rawboned blues by the horns and put their own twist on it. On the surface, it’s easy to burrow into City Man and imagine it was recorded in some Mississippi juke joint a long, long time ago (accentuated by the fact that Todd pushes both his guitar and the vocal through the same little amp). But when you put an ear to what’s really going on, you start hearing all the subtle-but-wild-ass stuff Garrard’s doing – or the cool how-did-he-do-that riffs Todd pulls, tugs, and flecks out of his Tiesco’s strings – or Bergman’s not-what-you-would’ve-expected-was-going-to-happen approach to blues bass. And therein lies the secret to Lonesome Shack: you can have a happy, casual hangout with City Man and have a good time – or you can dig into the thing as deeply as you like and find a treasure trove of mind-blowing grooves that go somewhere beyond the traditional.

“Bad Luck” is a fast-paced straight-ahead stomper; when the Shackmen go into a rhythm huddle at the midpoint, involuntary limb movement is unavoidable. The guitar and the vocal swagger as one on “Dwellers” with the drums going in six different ways underneath it all; “Mushin Dog” sounds like early Hot Tuna pumped through twin Cherry Bombs; Garrard lays the beat right against Todd’s fingerpicked, raspy-toned main riff on “Love Makes Love” while Bergman slams big balls of bass into the cracks.

“Switcher” is slow and tension-filled: listen to Bergman’s bass as it stalks Todd; Garrard’s drums sound as sinister as a flick-flicking switchblade. “The Admiral” is a funky made-to-dance tune offering up the yin/yang of Bergman’s butt-grinding bass lines and the spastic rhythm jerks of Todd’s guitar. And then there’s the title track: Todd leads things in – just he and his guitar – sounding like a long-lost radio broadcast of a never-before-heard Lightnin’ Hopkins tune while pounding through the first verse and chorus. Garrard and Bergman land hard, adding much momentum to the tune’s lurch and sway; and when guest hornman Andrew Swanson lays into his saxophone on the title track, it’s like ripping the top off a 55-gallon drum of pure raunch.

Lonesome Shack has discovered the secret of how to pay homage to the past while exploring vibes and rhythm textures from far-away places. Never mind quantum physics, gravitational time dilation, or parallel universes – these guys have figured out how to pull off multi-dimensional time travel with an old tube amp, a cracked cymbal, and a big dollop of greasy blues. Have mercy."

-Brian Robbins,

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