Rick Shaffer's sophomore solo record, Hidden Charms, is a gritty, fuzzy, and dusty blues-rock album that is perfect for long car rides and smoky bars. It starts abruptly, almost as if we missed the first few seconds of the first song, entitled "No Big Thing." However, in a form-matching-content sense, that's not a big deal, not a big thing. And that is because the album nonchalantly moves into the second track, "Buy And Sell," which is by far my favorite song on the album, perhaps because it is the most memorable. Initially, I get the sensation that the track is a downer song, based off the tone of the melody over the first 45 seconds of the song; then all of the sudden, it starts to lift up, and so does the feeling it gives off to the listener. In songs in general, I appreciate the sour and the sweet, the dark and the light, and this track melds those oppositions into a catchy, groovy tune.
It is no wonder to me that Shaffer has experience writing songs for films. I didn't need to know that he had penned a few songs for a couple of Michael Mann films, and songs for other movies back when he and Bruce Cohen were together in a group called The Reds® -- because this album feels like the soundtrack to a film yet to be written. Each track seems to fit a different scene. Track three, "Shadow Line," could be either the opening shot's song, when the plot is being set up right from the get-go, or it could be the credit music, foreshadowing the sequel. (Incidentally, this is also the song where the title of the record is born, with some of the few lyrics I can without-a-doubt make out.)
"Cruel World," track six, could suit the flirty love scene, where the main character and his love interest meet for the first time -- perhaps on a dance floor? And, though this may sound obvious, the final track of the album, "The Stranger," could be the theme song for the villain of the film. I'm envisioning Jim Jarmusch directing this would-be film, whereby the essence of Shaffer's songs match Jarmusch's storytelling style, both give off a real time or real life feel as we listen to or watch the various adventures of a rebel or loner protagonist.
Shaffer's voice is unique, possessing a cool-guy drawl. Fortunately or unfortunately, the lyrics are a little muffled, as previously indicated, but most of the time that only adds to the intrigue. Track eight, "Gonna Shout," incorporates some background male vocals that fit remarkably well for being quite simple. I could envision this being a single for the album, like with "Buy And Sell." Shaffer's guitar playing predicates itself on various levels of distortion, all dependent on the feeling of the particular track; but there is a constant presence of slow fuzz throughout the album giving it a laid-back allure.
• JESSE C. DIENNER • Redefine Magazine