Rick Shaffer’s fourth solo album "Stacked Deck" was recorded at Del Tone Studio, a foreclosed VFW outside Detroit, and the always raucous Boom Room in Mississippi. The musicians gathered for the project are a mix of Shaffer’s usual rhythm section of Les Chishom, Leon Wingfield, Boo Boo Spencer, along with his Detroit crew Anna Burne, Jimmy Causton and Del Robinson.
Written and produced by Shaffer, his latest release continues the "sonic minimalist” blueprint of his previous solo albums. The sound combines hard fuzz guitar driven garage-blues, a blues edged two step, lazy insistent rolling beat, new colors in the harmonica and spoons style percussion, along with an unadorned and unaffected blues narrative. Tracks "I Won't Deny," "Cool Treatment" and "Pushing Me" are all tough flat-out garage-blues wall of sound, with distortion drones, and searing slide tones that weave into your consciousness.
The album opener "I Won't Deny" is a lean boogie swinging style garage blues piece, in the Tony Visconti/Marc Bolan production mold, that has a "Bukowski" lyrical element, heavyweight guitar hook, and psychedelic treatment of slide tracks.
"Cool Treatment" is an over the top take on a John Lee Hooker one-note approach. Think "Jockey Blues" with heavy distorted guitars, a dirty R. L. Burnside style slide sound, wailing 60's beat-era harmonica, wrapped together in rocking mayhem. "Pushing Me" is a ratcheted up bluesy rocker psychedelic homage to the late Spirit guitarist, Randy California, backed by a bass drum/spoons groove. The lyrical content depicts harrowing realities, and uncompromising honesty and realism.
The tracks "Wait And See," “Ain’t Easy” and "Shake and Shudder" build on Shaffer’s expanding Fred McDowell slide and compositional influence, combined with Excello Records production where the entire piece is recorded with all the musicians in one room, so the sound produced has a great amount of energy and vibe. The idea is to have the percussion take on elements of West Virginia’s wild man Hasil Adkins recordings. With the vocal delivery supplying a blues/rockabilly slippery howl. You can hear the swinging rock & roll edge, primitive and raw, these tracks are sheer blister in beat and rhythm .
British Invasion rock & roll, garage rock, and psychedelia surface on "Talking About You" and "Reaction," that lead into a heady mash-up, with the economic, primal power of a classic rockabilly ensemble. Some beautiful 1960's beat-era grooves on these tracks, are reminiscent of early Sir Douglas Quintet and early Rolling Stones , with a shout out to R&B pioneer Larry Williams at the end of "Talking About You." Both tracks are lean rockers.
"Found My Love" is a more 70's type song that captures the elements of the overall album sound, but leans heavily on the early Velvet Underground crunching experimental treatment of sound. A songwriter of considerable depth, Shaffer’s sing-speak vocal dominates the track. The primitive drum/guitar grooves are obvious clues to the Velvet Underground connection. But, when a signature fuzz guitar figure is thrown in, you hear the Link Wray influence as well, with plenty of hooks, considerable melodicism, sensitivity, and almost naked introspection that drive the track home.
The closing track "Time Or Love," an Excello Records production in the vein of Lightnin Slim or Slim Harpo, is Louisiana school of dark blues, sounding like bad luck just moved in, an hour after the police and taxman showed up at the door. A driving, hard-nosed sound with sustained fuzz drones, with expressive vocals that belong uniquely to Shaffer, the perfect blues conjurer. The lyrical imagery — "If you ain't got the struggle, Oh, man you just ain't alive" — is what makes this track both menacing and beautiful at the same time. Then meshed with the shattering guitar solo that rivals "Self Reduction" (a fan favorite on The Reds® debut A&M album), the song closes Shaffer’s most resolute album to date.
Stacked Deck is about coming to terms with it all, and for Shaffer, it really is a "stacked deck" when all is said and done.
∎ Eddie Shelton — Witness To The Confession