The Shaky Hands
The Shaky Hands
This album came out in April, but deserves mention as being the work of another local band (they shared a recent bill at Holocene for Blitzen Trapper’s album release party) who display a knack for clever songwriting and distinctive musicianship. This band too reflects a certain Wilco-ness, a Pavement-ish quality, with dashes of Shins- and, perhaps, a ‘60s flair: mid-period Kinks, Small Faces, pre-Tommy Who, etc, with a vaguely Americana rock bent thrown in for colloquial good measure: Meat Puppets, Violent Femmes, Wheat, with shades of early Death Cab For Cutie thrown in. A tasty melange, to be sure. Melodic, smart and smartly played.
To the extent that there isn’t a bad song among the baker’s dozen presented here and that several stand out, this may be yet another band primed for major indie label distribution. Of course, most bands know by now- the dinosaur major labels are gone, gone with the 20th century. Bands, musicians: look to the lean mean indie labels and distributors to provide national distribution and promotional support for your blood, sweat and tears works of art. The majors will only spend tons of money on fat salaries and engorged expense accounts. Don’t be lured by the siren song of big bucks. Keep it local. Maintain control.
The first twenty seconds or so of “Whales Sing” sort of evokes whales, sonically- before breaking into a soulful riff, reminiscent of that found on Booker T and the MGs’ hit from 1969, “Time Is Tight,” with drummer Colin Anerson, bassist Mayhaw Hoons, and guitarists Jeff Lehman and Nicholas Delffs (who is also the lead vocalist) doing a worthy job of imitating
Al Jackson Jr., Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper; while echoing the Jam at the same time. Sort of. More like the Jam doing a Kinks songs. Oh, you get the point. “The Sleepless” could pass for an outtake from Wheat’s recent new release, with Delffs doing a reasonable vocal imitation of Wheat’s Scott Levesque. A pretty organ figure and pluckety electric rhythm guitar present the dominant structures upon which the song hangs, with Delffs’ forlorn plaint quailing over the top.
Clocking in at under two minutes, “Why And How Come” is one of those briefly piquant little numbers that blow by your consciousness so fast you don’t know quite what it was that you heard, only that you liked it a lot. A sure invitation to listen to the song again and again and again. Anderson’s machine gun drum attack echoes Keith Moon circa the Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” A tiny little hit of a song. “Maker Make” most definitely sounds like an Americanized Kinks, circa Arthur or Village Preservation, etc.
Guest Kyla Cech adds lush dynamic coloration to the soulful “We Will Rise,” wherein Delffs sounds somewhat like Michael Stipe, in the “Moral Kiosk” era. “Another World” allures with a raga-like drone and a subtle guitar interplay, calling to mind Jimmy Page in around third and fourth Led Zeppelin albums of the early ‘70s. Morgan Matthews’ flute, in tandem with Cech violin adds a nice symphonic touch (“Stairway To Heaven” anyone?).
There is a song from the late ‘50s, a haunting song called “Susie Darlin’” by a one-hit wonder (who later followed his parents’ advice, got an education with his royalties and became an professor of marketing at a college in Missouri). The equally haunting “I’m Alive,” calls to mind the chill that song induced fifty years ago. A despondent organ percolates beneath the churning guitars in the more energetic second half of the song.
The previous song must have been lyrically heavy (none were included), because “Sunburns” jumps right in with a happy-go-lucky, whistily cheery “Sunburns.” “Host Your Day” chunks along steadily, with meaty guitars and a rumbling bassline. A strong chorus makes this song stand out among a lot of other good songs.
Morgan Matthews again returns to add buttery recorder-like flutes to the of “Whirling Wind.” Anderson’s militant rhythms lend the song a pastoral quality often found in many Decemberists songs. An Eastern European mysticism grabs “Hold It Up,” as Delffs howls and bays through the vocal. Another very catchy tune “Summer’s Life,” as with its predecessor, “Sunburns,” displays a happy, sunny quality that is indefatigable in its spirit.
The Shaky Hands have garnered a lot of attention locally over the past few years for being a solid live band. This recording, while not particularly “thick” sonically, is still masterful in the skill displayed in the songwriting. Since recording this project last year, the band has added Nicholas Delffs’ brother Nathan to add percussion and lapsteel phrasings to the sound. Such a measure is well-conceived in that a thin sound might be one of the few complaints would have of the band on this recording, in which case: Problem solved!!