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Review: JD Wilkes & The Legendary Shack Shakers

The Legendary Shack Shakers with JD Wilkes have been around since 1996. Their raucous shows have made them truly legendary. The show is something one has to experience to truly understand. Anyone that has seen them, myself included, these guys stick with you. With JD as their front man he is every bit a show man, and true artist to form. The man did get his degree in art from Murray State, and he has certainly put it to use.

Their most recent record After You’ve Gonedropped last year, and it is every bit of a Shack Shakers record. High energy, booming vocal, mixed with an Americana sound that is authentically the Shack Shakers. “After You’ve Gone” the track of the same name as the album is a raucous song featuring the standard guitar and vocal, drum, but bleeding along is an organ and saxophone. It’s maybe a small detail, but when added along with what happens in the span of two and half minutes I couldn’t help but think “yeah, duh. Totally makes sense and thank you.” 

The album progresses and takes you along the deserted highway littered with ghosts, misunderstood monsters, and fallen telephone poles. They’ve taken swamp rock and blues and really made it their own. If Screaming Jay Hawkins had a band I would assume it would sound something like this, but who knows? This album sonically will fill your stereo, much like any of their albums. They maneuver their way through songs about being worried, long legs, Frankenstein, and silent keys, but when you feature an out of tune piano and casually mention said out of tune piano these are details that perk my ears up. The grime mixed with the rust and fuzz makes this album an over and over listen for me. 

From their formation in ’96 and many different iterations of the band they’re here again with another righteous album. If you are looking for sensitivity and beauty, this is not the record for you. These songs have edges that are broken, welds that have rusted, and monsters that are simply misunderstood, but yet that last track “Invisible Hand” is sung with just JD and a piano kind of in tune but not really while lyrically hinting at a form of beauty. It is Tom Waits-esque in both delivery and melody and after twelve tracks of going eighty and to one hundred miles an hour everything slows down for lucky track thirteen. Three minutes of a song, that what I got from it, is some sort of ghost that is just sort of there and knowing that it is there sometimes you just have to let it go. 

The Legendary Shack Shakers with this record do what they always do, however with different players being the only difference. Their sound is their sound and they’ve been trying to wrangle it for twenty some odd years. Along with adding this record to your collection and going to see these folks I would also recommend checking out JD’s published books “Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky” and “Vine That Ate the South.” Listening to The Shack Shakers is one thing. The energy is palpable. I won’t give anything away to their live show, because this is something different all together. Not different from the music, different in it not being of the norm. Different in that it strikes back to the days when lead vocalists made themselves a part of the show as much as the audience was. So, stop reading this and make plans to go see them, or do yourself a favor and add one of their many records to your collection, or do all of that. 

Catch The Legendary Shack Shakers (unplugged) at The Southgate House Revival this Wednesday with Reverend Horton Heat!

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