For his fourth release, Rick Shaffer’s album Stacked Deck includes a little bit of everything, with none of it going to waste. The gritty, devil-may-care guitar sound surrounds each and every track of this fun and marvelously messy ten song amalgam. The album was recorded in Detroit and Mississippi, and it truly sounds like it, with the songs offering up plenty of blues-rock heartiness and feel-good rock and roll for every type of six string music lover to sink their teeth into.

The opener is an explosive yet messy little number called “I Won’t Deny.” With its core full of energetic, no-destination chord playfulness, the nice and greasy “slide” sound comes right up the middle to set the feel of the album in motion. Wonderfully slippery and nonchalant, Shaffer was wise to pick this as the first cut. He then follows suit with “Ain’t Easy,” a party-style tune that highlights Shaffer’s guitar virtuosity while harboring a delicious, down-home, dirty feel; a real scorcher. From there, more of the same creeps in with “Shake And Shudder.” Although it brandishes a more “congenial” musical flow, it’s also clean and well balanced instrumentally, but still unkempt enough so as to not stray too far from the album’s bluesy pulse.

“Found My Love” is Stacked Deck’s firmest piece. There’s a great bottom bass line that fuels the guitar and vocals throughout, and the song as a whole has a destination and a distinction that seems to hover above all the rest of the cuts. With a sort of J. Geils Band meets Steve Earle attitude, “Found My Love” may be the first song on the album that promoters would choose to put on the radio. Haunting and sporting a kinder, amiable feel is “Talking About You,” supported by a strong instrumental backdrop via the guitar work, but also by the emotive vocals that comes through as the blood in this tune’s veins. The harmonica comes to the forefront here as well, adding even more color to the spectrum.  “Reaction” is much like the other offerings, with its wailing, guitar wavering and moody, Chris Isaac-like musical smirk. “Cool Treatment” is an amicable growler, built with heavy duty fuzz guitar striations and classic vocal aeronautics all rolled and squeezed together—tasty!

“Time Or Love” ends the album, a tic-toc, Johnny Winter-ish chunk of slow, steady boot stomp blues-rock.  This one pulls no punches, acting as a fitting finale to the album. Actually, this is the song that will come on when the lights go up and the bar is ready for last call.

Full of pleasing blues, steady rock, messy blues-rock, and all of the above entwined, Stacked Deck, holds together well all the way through. Shaffer does a good job of dictating the feel without slipping into boredom. The tunes are well thought out, and well played. There’s no pretentiousness, no acrobatics, and no unnecessary theatrics; just a good set of pure rock and blues songs.

  • Mike DeGagne • Sudbury, Ontario, Canada • 4 stars (out of 5)