When I first started reviewing Rick Shaffer's solo material, my standing joke – then and now – is that if the Rolling Stones ever figure out how to recapture their mid-'60s mojo, this is how it should sound: tough, tight and to the point, but soulful, too. MISADVENTURE marks Shaffer's fifth album on his own, away from the “day job” – The Reds®, which continue as a duo of himself, and keyboardist Bruce Cohen – and reaffirms the blueprint that he's followed thus far.
If you've kept tabs on Shaffer's work, you already know what you're getting: droning, fuzztone-laced garage rock, leavened by shots of blues – with nods to Slim Harpo, and Lightnin' Hopkins – plus the kind of down 'n' dirty R&B that seems a distant memory in this era of Autotuned robotic gymnastics. This outing leans closer to the garage side of the coin, with a couple of significant variations – which we'll address momentarily – that demonstrate why Shaffer is a compelling artist, and more than just another clever guitarist.
All jokes apart, recapturing the mojo requires getting all the details right, and adding your own creative touches, which Shaffer does throughout this album – such as using his guitar armada to double the vocal hook line, for example, which works to devastating effect on the opening one-two punch of “Fooling Me” and “Some Say.” He also adds subtle touches of color that lift the songs above rock's holy guitar-bass-drum trinity such as Boo Boo Spencer's spoons and percussion, or the harmonica that punctuates the deceptive uptempo friskiness of "Out Of Time" (“We've been walking/We've been talking/Now we've come to the end of the line”).
MISDAVENTURE also distinguishes itself through a spirited sense of vocal interplay. While that element has always been present in Shaffer's work, this time around, he's playing that card more prominently than before. For further reference, see “Listen Now,” another snappy garage raver built around a call-and-response between its show-me-something spirit (“You say that I'm a non-believer/But what you're saying ain't true”) and its two-fisted chorus (“Listen now to what I say, listen now to what I say”). Shaffer cuts loose with one of his blistering, paint-peeling guitar solos – which he keeps short, snappy and to the point.
The heightened vocal interplay also works well on two of the album's other certified highlights, “Turn It Up,” and “Falling Down” – driven home by a wall of crunchy guitars and multi-tracked Shaffer harmonies. Both songs also introduce a new vein to the Shaffer sound – in this case, rousing '70s glam-punk anthems that he powers with ringing, single-note leads. In some ways, it's reminiscent of the guitar-and-vocal army approach that Lou Reed used so effectively on albums like STREET HASSLE (only to feed the faithful dreck like “Disco Mystic” and “So Alone,” but that's another discussion).
Both songs stand up on their own, though it pays to listen carefully, or you'll miss the lament for self-destructive appetites that powers “Turn It Up” (“. . . the things that you really be loving/You gonna do them until they kill you”), or the resigned nod over love turned sour in “Falling Down” (“Stop talkin' about redemption, honey/You know it's a lousy bet”). “Another High,” on the other hand, is an altogether different beast – part garage, part psych-punk, part neo-Stooges – whose wistful bleakness (“Somebody loved you, baby/Way more than you know”) floats on top of a sea of buzzing, heavily echoed guitars. It's the foundation for an intriguing new direction, if Shaffer wants to explore it, and closes the proceedings on a strong, decisive note.
To a less savvy reviewer, Shaffer's show of carrying the musical load – besides guitar, he's also credited here with bass, fuzz bass, harmonica and percussion – might leave little room for other people's input, but I'd maintain the opposite: vision is all too easily outsourced in today's consensus-driven environment. Refreshingly, that's not the case here (although one additional bassist and three other drummers make appearances besides Spencer). All in all, if you share the garage rock renegade's contempt for current trends – and kept the home fires burning for the Pretty Things, and the Yardbirds, as you await the Stones' mojo to roll again – then MISADVENTURE should be just the ticket.
Highlights: Fooling Me, Turn It Up, Falling Down, Commotion, Listen Now, Another High
Lowlights: None, dammit!
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5) Neither flashy nor complicated — the sound of a man who keeps on keepin' on.
∎ Ralph Heibutzki Communiques — 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.)