Rick Shea: Love & Desperation

Pandemic Americana

Surprisingly, Rick Shea’s latest album doesn’t sound particularly different from his earlier efforts, even though it was tracked remotely by musicians distributed amongst their own studios. Begun in the Spring of 2019 in Shea’s home studio, by early 2020 the collaboration had spread to multiple studios and was coordinated by e-mail and computer network. Incredibly, the album shows no seams or lack of group ethos, and though Shea tips his hat to the pandemic on a few titles, the songs don’t evidence the Groundhog-like sameness that our collective shelter-in-place has brought to daily life.

The opening cover of Al Ferrier’s rockabilly “Blues Stop Knockin’ at My Door” takes in Lazy Lester‘s harmonica-driven Louisiana stomp, and adds accordion and guitar solos to the yearning, heartsick vocal. Shea’s low, slow “Blues at Midnight” picks up the sorrowful mood as he suffers the late-night misery of being left behind, and “Jaunita (Why Are You So Mean)” imagines the travails of Shea’s in-laws during their dating years. The album’s title track is dramatized from an autobiographical seed, and “Down at the Bar at Gypsy Sally’s” takes a few liberties with the San Bernardino bar scene in which Shea cut his musical teeth.

The world’s current circumstance is essayed in the allegorical “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama,” a surprisingly chipper two-step of accordion and steel with a deadly category five storm on the horizon. In contrast, the dark folk-blues “The World’s Gone Crazy” finds the storm having blown through, leaving behind an apocalyptic aftermath. Luckily, Shea’s world isn’t confined by his physical circumstances, as he still writes imaginative ballads (“A Tenderhearted Love”), ambivalent musings (“Nashville Blues”), and cinematic stories (the closing “Texas Lawyer”) that belie the pandemic-induced isolation in which this music was created. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

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