Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Album Review: State Theatre by J.R. Shore
Pack your bags for a tour across the wide expanse of the Americana musical spectrum with J.R. Shore. On his new album, State Theatre, you’ll hear echoes of current favorites like Darrell Scott and Ray Wylie Hubbard back through Bob Dylan and Joe Ely, with touches of Randy Newman, Taj Mahal, Doctor John and Lowell George sprinkled in. J.R. Shore digs even deeper into America’s musical past incorporating touches of Jazz, Dixieland and Ragtime as well. There is virtually no corner of America’s grand Country/Blues/Americana tradition that goes unexplored on this album, which is ironic, because J.R. Shore is Canadian. Like the Rolling Stones reminding America of its forgotten Blues roots, J.R. Shore holds a sonic mirror up to us reflecting back the tones and textures that define Americana.
State Theatre is a shining example of everything that’s right with Americana: brilliant storytelling, three dimensional characters you’d meet in real life, expert musicianship, creative arrangements, and a rootsy, earthy voice to bring it all together. The album starts off with the lo-fi, bluesy “Holler Like Hell”, which sounds like it bubbled up murky and uninvited from the Louisiana Bayou. “Addie Polk” follows with a funky take on a serious subject – the housing crisis. The lyrical depth of the subject is balanced by the uptempo rhythm and punctuated with a mean Hammond organ, as if the will of the music transforms a tragic story into one of triumph. Then the album really kicks into high gear on the next four songs. “Poundmaker,” “Charlie Grant,” “Dash Snow,” and “Jackie’s Odds” are as fine a murderer’s row of songs as I’ve ever heard on a single album. “Poundmaker” is a Marty Stuart style tribute to yet another Native American caught between two worlds and prosecuted by one of them. Beginning and ending with the refrain, “On account of my grandfather, they did not cut my hair;” the story gives a snapshot of a cycle that has repeated for generations. The slide guitar and piano give the perfect yearning, almost reverent backdrop to this tragic story. “Charlie Grant” follows with the tale of the Negro League star who almost broke through baseball’s color line twenty years before Jackie Robinson by passing himself off as a Native American. Again, Shore plays counterpoint to the tragedy of the story with an uptempo, almost Dixieland rhythm and ends on a poetic note of optimism about his burial, singing, “He’s just two doors down from Miller Huggins. They’re finally playing on the same damn field.” “Dash Snow” follows with a “Memo From Turner” sounding eulogy for a junkie. “Jackie’s Odds” finishes off this amazing run with a Dr. John/Little Feat fusion about a gambler who just can’t win (“the deeper you go, the harder you fall.”)
The rest of the album is a sumptuous feast of Blues, Folk and straight up Country. Quite frankly, there’s not a bad song on the album, but other standouts are the Dylan inspired “Ballad of Dreyfus,” the Randy Newmanesque, “146” and the gospel/blues tribute to the Underground Railroad, “Dayton Free,” where Shore sings, “Freedom’s streets are shinier than Tennessee gold.” (And if that’s not enough, J.R. includes a bonus disc of eight cover songs of some of his favorite songwriters including Robbie Robertson and Neil Young.) J.R. Shore packs so much emotion, empathy and pathos into these stories that you feel he’s lived each of them himself. Such is the power of music in the hands of a master. And if there are any masters of this form we call Americans, J.R. Shore is sure one of them.
Posted by Family Reunion at 9:47 AM