Do not be fooled by the quirky, cartoony intro (“Melungeon Melody”) at the beginning of the Legendary Shack Shakers’ new album, Agridustrial. The sounds of tools and wind-up toys are not a happy-go-lucky gesture. They are a warning that the silliness that is life can come to an abrupt, brutal end and you’d best be ready to pay the ferryman.
Or the “Sin Eater.” The first full track on Agridustrial is a sonic punch in the face and kick in the junk. It asks us to offer our sins for the Shack Shakers’ supper. Lead singer J.D. Wilkes tells us he enjoys eating “sin on the cob” and reminds us that when you feed evil, you starve the soul.
“Sugar Baby” begins the list of the deadly sins eaten – lust and greed. Wilkes (backed by some fantastic banjo) laments the loss of his cash-laden sexy sugar mama. “Nightride” is a fiery cry to flee from sin – especially barn-burning wrath – before the law (both Earthly and Heavenly) find you. Wilkes plays a fierce harmonica on this track while drummer Brett Whitacre lays down the snappiest Gatling gun groove I’ve heard in a long time.
Whitacre’s drums get even fiercer in “Dixie Iron Fist.” Guitarist Duane Denison and bassist Mark Robertson jump on Whitacre’s bullet train and somehow propel it faster. The Shack Shakers remind us that once you’re on the railway to Hell, it’s highly unlikely you can leave that train. Try it and the Dixie Iron Fist might crush you.
“Two Tickets to Hell” is a trip through a dark tunnel on that hellish train ride; on which Wilkes and crew let us know they are sinners just like the rest of us. “We’re thick with sin, all our kith and kin,” Wilkes sings. The song drifts out into a lonesome dirge that sounds like it was lifted from an Ennio Morricone score.
“God Fearing People” offers a chance off the Satan Express, thanks to Wilke’s great harmonica and Denison’s chugging guitar. The message is simple: Follow the Almighty’s plan for you, and you should be able to dodge those fireballs from above.
Because, after all, “Jesus Christ was a Dixie dude” (according to “Greasy Creek”) who wants you to stick by your lover despite the constant battles you may have (“Hammer and Tongs”). You may feel weird, distorted, nightmarish, and lecherous like a “Hog-Eyed Man,” but once you hear the sweet “Dump Road Yodel,” you will see the wonders of the universe like a British Time Lord. You will be free of Earthly constraints, like the rail-riders Wilkes pays homage to in “Hoboes Are My Heroes.”
But beware. Stay on guard against the lure of sin. “Everything I Wanted to Do” is a bucket list of vices all completed in one night, and the Shack Shakers want you to know that such a devotion to mortal lusts can lead you to “The Hills of Hell” and make you suffer the same fate as a man murdered and stuffed into the body of a dead horse. Chasing sin is always “The Lost Cause.” Wilkes knows this, as do all of us, and that Charon will demand his payment before long. The end of the album, “Killswitch,” is a not-so subtle reminder of this. Once that switch is flipped by His mighty hand, the show is over.
Agridustrial is the Legendary Shack Shakers’ offer to help us expunge our souls of detritus, soot, spilled whiskey, smeared lipstick, BBQ sauce stains, and musk so we may be free to journey with them to the tops of sacred mountains. It is a journey I suggest you take. The alternative is a train bound for a place you’d rather not visit.
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Nik Havert is a writer, DJ, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man. He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer.
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