Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Steve Ter­rell

New mu­sic from Leg­endary Shack Shaker J.D. Wilkes

I’ve got a few things in com­mon with J.D. Wilkes. For one, he lives in Pa­d­u­cah, Ken­tucky. My grand­fa­ther was born and raised in Kut­tawa, Ken­tucky, a small town near Pa­d­u­cah. (My grand­fa­ther pro­nounced it “Ka-TOY.”) Another thing — Wilkes has been hon­ored by his state as a “Ken­tucky Colonel.” Sim­i­larly, I’m a colonel aide-de-camp, that dis­tinc­tion hav­ing been be­stowed upon me by for­mer New Mex­ico Gov. David F. Cargo and for­mer Lt. Gov. Wal­ter Bradley. So we both know the pres­sures and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that such an of­fice de­mands. We both were present at a Leg­endary Shack Shakers and Dirt Daubers show at the old Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany in June 2012. (He was on stage. I was in the au­di­ence.) But most im­por­tant, both Wilkes and I are fans of Amer­i­can folk songs, blues, blue­grass, Gypsy jazz and swamp rock. (He plays it a lot bet­ter than I do. I do bet­ter in the au­di­ence.)

Wilkes’ love for this mu­sic and his abil­ity to make it sound fresh, fun, and vi­tal, is ob­vi­ous in his new solo al­bum

Fire Dream, which will be of­fi­cially re­leased next week. This comes just a scant few months af­ter the Shack Shakers’ most re­cent al­bum, Af­ter You’ve Gone, which I’ll get to later.

Fire Dream, which was co-pro­duced by Jimbo Mathus, is more eclec­tic than ei­ther the Shakers or The Dirt Daubers, a more coun­try/blue­grass-based group that also fea­tured Wilkes’ ex-wife Jes­sica.

A lot of the songs should sound fa­mil­iar. There are at least a cou­ple of tunes here — “Hoboes Are My Heroes” and “Bi­ble, Can­dle and a Skull” — that Wilkes recorded be­fore with the Shack Shakers. “Hoboes” was my fa­vorite song from the Shakers’ 2010 al­bum AgriDus­trial. While both ver­sions fea­ture Wilkes’ banjo, the slower new ver­sion also has a dreamy vi­o­lin and clar­inet. The new take on “Bi­ble, Can­dle and a Skull,” which first ap­peared on Pan­delerium (2006), is also a de­par­ture from the more rocked-out orig­i­nal. On the solo record, Wilkes’ vo­cals are deep into the mix while a ghostly, tin­kling pi­ano and clar­inet play an oth­er­worldly tango.

Also here are a cou­ple of ven­er­ated clas­sics of ru­ral Amer­ica songs — a fine old out­law bal­lad called “Wild Bill Jones” (first recorded by a woman named Eva Davis in 1924 but un­doubt­edly much older) and “Rain and Snow,” which I first heard as “Cold, Rain and Snow,” on The Grate­ful Dead’s first al­bum but ac­tu­ally goes back at least to 1917, when it was col­lected in North Carolina by folk­lorists Olive Dame Camp­bell and Ce­cil Sharp in their com­pi­la­tion English Folk Songs from the South­ern Ap­palachi­ans. “Well I mar­ried me a wife, she’s been trou­ble all my life/Left me out in the cold, rain and snow.”

Tom Waits fans might hear some sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Wilkes and Waits in some of the tunes here. Their voices aren’t sim­i­lar at all, but both are fond of Gypsy vi­o­lins and Eastern Euro­pean stomps. The song “Fire Dream” has se­ri­ous echoes of Waits’ “Ceme­tery Polka.” And try to lis­ten to “Moon­bot­tle” with­out think­ing of “Jockey Full of Bour­bon,” I dare you!

Mean­while, “Down in the Hidey Hole” has traces of metal and (might that be?) reg­gae. And “Star­lings, Ky” might be de­scribed as lo-fi blue­grass, though the fid­dle solo sounds sus­pi­ciously Ca­jun.

Fire Dream stands well on its own, but play­ing it side by side with the re­cent Leg­endary Shack Shakers record gives you a fuller glimpse of Wilkes’ artistry. As Shakers fans have come to ex­pect, Af­ter You’ve

Gone is a rock­ing, bluesy as­sault with some rock­a­billy over­tones. This al­bum comes closer in sound and raw spirit to roots-punk pi­o­neers The Gun Club than past Shack Shakers ef­forts. Though the mu­sic is more up­beat than Fire Dream, much of the sub­ject mat­ter, sparked by Wilkes’ divorce, is the per­sonal, con­fes­sional kind of ma­te­rial that you might ex­pect on a solo al­bum.

There is some­thing clas­sic about break-up al­bums. Think Marvin Gaye’s stun­ning Here My Dear or Wil­lie Nel­son’s Phases and Stages or Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thomp­son. Lots of the song ti­tles here can be heard as Wilkes rag­ing at his pain. In fact, the first words you hear on the open­ing track “Curse of the Ca­jun Queen,” are “Well, I feel so bad.” The sax-aug­mented “War Whoop (Chief Paduke’s Re­venge)” is pure anger. In the ti­tle song, Wilkes states his case clearly: “This place just ain’t the same/ And I’m call­ing out your name/Just an empty echo/Af­ter you’ve gone.” And the hyped-up “Get Out of My Brain” shows just how hard a haunted psy­che can rock. “You’re wel­come to my heart, but stay out of my brain,” Wilkes pleads.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing cuts here is a cover song — a Bo Did­dley-ondiet-pills ver­sion of a hill­billy clas­sic, “Sin­gle Boy.” Usu­ally this is done as “Sin­gle Girl” with a fe­male singer. That’s how The Mad­dox Broth­ers and Rose recorded it back in the ’40s. And that’s how The Dirt Daubers recorded it with Jes­sica Wilkes singing just a few years ago. I’m not sure whether this is Wilkes thumb­ing his nose at his ex, or if it’s a pri­vate joke be­tween them. Or what. A lit­tle more sub­tle is the fi­nal song, “In­vis­i­ble Hand,” in which Wilkes sings a pretty melody backed by what sounds like a player pi­ano. And that melody seems haunt­ingly fa­mil­iar. It took me a minute or two, but I re­al­ized that the melody is dan­ger­ously close to “Trucks, Trac­tors and Trains,” another Dirt Daubers song that Jes­sica sang. The Daubers did it up­beat in a jaunty blue­grass style. But the Af­ter You’ve Gone ver­sion is slow and sad.

Fire Dream shows a man still stand­ing, made stronger by his mu­si­cal roots. Af­ter You’ve Gone shows the storm he has en­dured.

Los Lo­bos re­turns to Santa Fe Fri­day night, Feb. 9, with a 7:30 p.m. con­cert at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. The show is a ben­e­fit for the Es­pañola Val­ley Hu­mane So­ci­ety, which gets 100 per­cent of the pro­ceeds. Tick­ets are $35 in ad­vance; $40 at the door; and $100 (which in­cludes a mee­tand-greet with the band). Get tick­ets at holdmy ticket.com.

Wilkes’ love for this mu­sic and his abil­ity to make it sound fresh, fun, and vi­tal, is ob­vi­ous in his new solo al­bum Fire Dream.

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