The promotional material labels it “rock and roar” and it’s a great mix of southern rock and country with a distorted edge. They’re not an inexperienced band, having a trilogy of original material (The Wolf, The Hawk and The Bear) and a collection of covers (The Covers) out. They’ve also played over 250 live dates in their relatively short career, having released the first LP in only 2013.
It’s always nice hearing a fresh sound, and SJ&tS have a great one. Both relaxing yet rocky, the tunes chug out one after another until the end of the album when you can’t help but put it back on again. Depending on your mood, they’re either toe-tappy or head-bangy. Shawn James’ vocals remind me of Shinedown’s Brent Smith, but the musical sound is darker.
The distortion is so high, it’s often hard to tell exactly what instruments are being used but it doesn’t matter. This sounds like a modern-day envisioning of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. It just hits you. Sometimes difficult to pick out the individual components but the overall effect is wonderfully intense. But then it stops temporarily and you have a purely vocal segment that sounds like you just stepped into a Southern gospel meeting. This is epitomised by opener – and album highlight – “No Gods”.
Just because one of the best tracks is at the start doesn’t make anything else a let-down. The interest curve is held high by songs like “Wild Man” with it’s near-Sabbath like simple opening riff. So catchy you’ll be whistling it for weeks. But, hey, that’s not the whole song. Again we’re regaled by simplistic verses lacking in instruments but high in hand-clapping action. You can check this beauty out below.
“Lake of Fire” slows things down a bit, showing that the band can do (very deep, distorted) ballads as well as anyone else. The heaviness really hits with “Back Down” which is so southern you can almost smell the alligator breath.
The final track “Sandbox” lives up to its name by being very experimental, and also the longest piece on the album. If I had to name a weak point, I’d say this is it. It’s just a little over-long and messy for me. However, the rest of the album easily make up for it and I’m sure it’ll appeal to others.
The Gospel According To Shawn James & The Shapeshifters is out on April 7th