And so, the clock rewinds, the minute hand takes a moment to reset itself, the second hand waits for an encore cue, and we renew our acquaintance once more with Rick Shaffer, former guitarist of those amped up '80-s Philadelphia New Wave ravers, The Reds, who's lately racked up an impressive streak of solo albums that shows no signs of letting up.
That's certainly the case for his latest effort, Outside Of Time (Tarock Music), which maintains the standards that we've come to expect from him: high energy, stripped down garage-psych and punk, infused with flecks of old school R&B, and a little hill country blues, too, while he's at it. As usual, Shaffer carries the load (guitar, percussion, lead vocals), with a little bit of strategic assistance from Teddy Rixon (bass) and Russ Mitchell (drums, percussion).
If you've followed Shaffer's work this far, you'll know his albums start off with a house-shaking opening track, and "Killer Time" is no exception. The track builds around a fuzz-laced riff, and a drum/tambourine track that just propels it right along, as Shaffer asks someone — a business partner, friend, or lover, we don't know — to just drop the pretense, and deal with life's hard truths, for a change ("Why are you waiting for things you can't see?). Then, in the middle, the song explodes into a truly paint-peeling, overdriven lead solo that provides an apt counterpart to its theme (a favored subject of previous Shaffer efforts).
This up-tempo approach and unapologetic mindset prevails on tracks like "One By One" ("Ask me once, but please don't ask again, where I'm going, and mostly, where I've been"), and "Blowing My Mind" ("I ain't changing, I ain't changing my mind now"), on which Shaffer laces his lyrics with dark flecks of guitar fills. Like I've said before, and feel obliged to say again — if the Rolling Stones are serious about reclaiming their mojo, here's where that mission should start.
"Going Down Slow," on the other hand, is a shot of grungy blues energy that nods to simpler pleasures: in this case, cruising the cityscape, and listening to music, without worrying about where you're going, what you need to do next, or whether you've got to be on time ("Going down, going down slow/don’t tell the things that I already know"). It's a fitting subject, considering the site of the album's recording (Del Tone Studios, Detroit, MI). The blues elements return in full force on the closing track, the aptly-titled "Hellbound Trip," which will definitely give a glimpse of a hellhound's pursuit.
Other highlights include "Show Me," a shimmering, moody piece of psych-pop that (honestly) recalls the world-weary, "shrug my shoulders" resignation of the Music Machine's twilight years. As on the other songs, Shaffer leaves the listener to determine just who he's taking to task here, though it's definitely someone that he's happy not to see anymore ("How many times/must I try to explain/Trouble coming down like a pouring rain").
Other tracks show Shaffer in a more pop-oriented mood. The biggest surprise here, and a hint at a direction to explore on future albums, if Shaffer chooses. Notable snapshots include "Blowing My Mind," "Your Charm," whose guitar hook nods to T. Rex's breakthrough ("Get It On"), and "Changing Anything," which boasts an earnestly singalong chorus amid its underdog determination (“This ain’t changing anything, no this ain’t changing anything/No this ain’t changing anything I know”).
In less adept hands, the sonic collisions that often occur here — the layered vocals, persistent leads, and strategically deployed guitar and percussion fills — would sound soggy and deadly. On Outside Of Time, they sound just right. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present — Mr. Rick Shaffer, Philly guitar slinger, who's bearing down on you with everything he knows — the one-man last gang in town, who hasn't chased the trends. With works of this caliber, he won't feel the need.
∎ Ralph Heibutzki — Chairman Ralph’s Ministry Of Truth
(Ralph Heibutzki is the author of “Unfinished Business: The Life & Times of Danny Gatton." His articles have appeared in Bass Player, DISCoveries, Goldmine, Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, and he is a regular contributor to the All Music Guide.)