======================= It's a challenge to write a review of a recording that you can sum up in one word: DAMN.
The last few years have inundated music lovers with artists clustered under the Rockabilly umbrella. Most of these musicians fall into two broad categories; neo-traditionalists who focus their efforts on replicating a classic 1950s look and sound and Psychobillies who have revved up their rock with crazed speed most closely associated with punk. With so many retro/roots bands running around it's easy to overlook the true talents.
Th' Legendary Shack-Shakers are one of these greats. One listen to their newest recording, Pandelirium, should confirm that you're in uncharted territory. Don't worry, Col. J.D. Wilkes, Mark Robertson and David Lee are aboard to lead us full speed into oblivion, like fire and brimstone preachers crossed with Captain Ahab.
There's a lot of musical styles fighting for attention on this CD; Primitive Blues, Rockabilly, Carnivalia, even Polka. In other hands this album would be like an over-piled plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, great elements but lousy presentation. Not so with the 'Shakers. They grind up all of these elements and funnel them through punk. This isn't "punk" style, you won't find psychobilly's foot tall hair or perfectly applied eyeliner. It's all about punk's attitute of adventurism that makes this recording gel. That and the crisp, clear production that allows every instrument to shine. You know that a song includes a typewriter because you can *hear the typewriter*, and the harmonica, and accordion, and the glockenspiel.
Just as the boundaries of instrumentation are wide open Wilkes doesn't seem to see any topic as off limits for his lyrics. This isn't another album of songs about cars, girls, demon girls, demon girls driving cars... The good Colonel does see demons in our world but they're often devils in the guise of corrupt business men. You can hear about them on the songs "South Electric Eyes (S.E.E.)" and "Somethin' in the Water (The Union Carbide Blues)". Wilkes clearly has a lot on his mind. Don't worry, J.D. may be a preacher, but he's not preachy. Even on a song like "No Such Thing" you don't feel like you're being lectured to. Instead, as with all great punk recordings, you want to vent along. You want to become part of the choir bringing down that brimstone. After listening you don't feel down because of the shit in the world, you feel energized to knock it down and make it better. That's what you get when you're fueled on punk.
Even when the songs vent, they tell a story. These strange tales overflow with characters who are simultaneously common and larger than life. If Th' Legendary Shack-Shakers have a genre then it's the Land-locked Sea Chanty. Here are strange people caught in epic yet gritty circumstances. Everything may be doomed but that doesn't mean we can't have a good time singing along until the end. The band is at the helm of our craft, piloting us down a river bursting it's banks, serenading us as we head at full speed toward the DAMN.
Bonus review by a 12 year old who's favorite bands are The Ramones and The White Stripes:
"I like it. It's fun and fast. Anybody who likes punk would like this."