In tonight’s Independent Spotlight, we delve into a new record from Rick Shaffer, guitarist of The Reds. ‘Jitterbug Shake’ is his sixth solo effort, combining his love of early R&B, rock and roll, and garage blues. Needless to say, Shaffer had me at ‘early R&B.’ The album ‘pushes the needle into the red,’ overdriving each track with the fierce ghost of rock and roll’s past. Influenced by the likes of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and many others, Shaffer is attempting to pay homage to the legends through an extensive collection of original material.
‘Garage rock’ is dicey territory. You don’t want to sound blatantly under produced and unrealized, but you do want to maintain the quips and authentic feel of the recordings. Fortunately, Shaffer walks this line remarkably well. As expected, ‘Got To Know’ slammed me in the face with a powerhouse rock and roll performance. The production quality isn’t particularly high, and levels regularly peak too high and distort. As aforementioned, though, Shaffer’s music does so with such enthusiasm that it doesn’t detract from the experience at all. It actually gives it a whole lot of character. (Remember the great J.J Cale? He was like that, too. The recordings weren’t conventionally strong, but you couldn’t beat his presence.)
‘Jitterbug Shake’ also seems to take a lot of influence from British Invasion era rock and roll. I’d align a track like ‘Sure Thing’ with the Stones in a heartbeat. Those bluesy themes, distorted slide guitar, and defiant lead vocals are incredibly similar to late 60s Rolling Stones music. ‘Going Strong’ continues this trend, accentuating Shaffer’s retro, yet contemporary style.
On tracks like ‘Just a Little,’ you wish that the tambourine was a bit more buried in the mix. With that said, that same track does also boast one of the meanest, most badass guitar solos of the collection. The trade off is well worth it.
The first six songs on the album sound similar and rock out with themes that carry on from track to track. The bluesy ‘Confidence Man’ is a bit of a departure from that style, focusing more heavily on the blues. Thus, it may be my favorite track in the collection. As a Chicagoan musician, songs like this are my bread and butter and it fills my musical heart with joy to see Shaffer absolutely nail the formula. ‘Last Of Me’ sounds like a track straight off of Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing it Back Home.’
‘Jitterbug Shake’ is a triumph in its ability to harness retro rock and roll and make it modern and relevant. Shaffer’s performance is top notch and for the most part, the barebones recordings serve him well. It’s very much worth the time of fans who dig that old time rock and roll, however, and it’ll get you dancing without a doubt.
• Tilting Windmill Studios