In the words of INXS, better than Oasis
Last spring Shawn James and his band The Shapeshifters released a record called “The Gospel According To…..”. MVM reviewed it, and my, it was a struggle. Not because it wasn’t excellent, you understand – it really was – but rather because it defied description. Indeed, the best this reviewer could manage was some waffle about: “can you imagine if “Wiseblood” era Corrosion Of Conformity decided to play some Georgia Satellites covers with a Cajun country and western band in a New Orleans blues club?” by way of a description.
The good news for people that like to pen things about records, at least, is that “On The Shoulders Of Giants” (thankfully although named closely after the Oasis record of 2000, sounding nothing like the Gallagher brothers) is a damn sight easier to get a handle on.
Because Shawn James is rapidly becoming one of rock n roll’s greatest mavericks, and for this go round he’s decided to hole up with his guitars – and what MVM guesses is a beat box – and make something that is heavy blues, and very deeply personal.
Indeed, not often since Springsteen stripped back for “Nebraska” has music seemed this close and almost claustrophobic. There are frequent moments of genuine brilliance here, perhaps the best of which is the astonishing “Belly Of The Beast” which sees James return to the relationship with his father which he also did on last years effort too, although “When It Rains, It Pours” runs it close.
For a record with very little in the way of light and shade – you’d guess as a direct response to the outright bombast of “…According To – there are plenty of subtleties amongst the songs. “Snake Eyes” is almost hypnotic, with its melding of urgency and acoustics, and “Delilah” – not a cover of Tom Jones’ effort – is a tale of dark betrayal done superbly.
James, who is one of those artists you feel like you know through their lyrics as they appear to reveal so much to the listener, often seems to be seeking redemption and purpose on “On The Shoulders Of Giants” this is made explicit by the superb gospel-tinged “Lift Us Up”, but he’s equally adept at storytelling folk music too, and “Captain Stormalong” shows another side to him – indeed you are left wondering if there’s anything he can’t do.
If the rest of the record has been stark, then the closing track, just James’ some handclaps and a drumbeat, is as primal as it gets, but even here on “Preacher Foretold” Shawn James pulls it off as though it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Rarely does an artist release two such different records in the space of little over a year, but then, artists like Shawn James are a rare occurrence. This record was recorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, and it is a work that deserves to be mentioned with the other incredible records that have been made there.
Darkly and starkly magnificent.