|Photos by Chris Gray|
Th' Legendary Shack Shakers are a sort of Blue Ridge Parkway answer to Los Skarnales, mining Anglo-American roots music and all things Memphis - Sun Records, Beale Street and the Oblivians - to create a turbo-charged, gypsy-flavored, punk-speed rockabilly dynamo with a metric ton of harmonica and a freight-train backbeat that refuses to quit. When they say they're about to slow things down for a ballad ("Ichabod"), that means they're actually about to speed up.
Burning through songs at Rudyard's Tuesday like a writer on deadline burns through cigarettes, the Nashville quartet brought forth images of cars with huge tailfins, high-school sock hops gone horribly awry and sharecroppers' sons setting out for the big city to seek their fortunes. Frontman Col. J.D. Wilkes only stopped his snake-handling contortions and tent-revival yowl long enough to blow enough air through his harmonica to power a good-sized windmill.
Guitarist Duane Denison, used to ducking and dodging spastic frontmen from his tenure in the (recently reunited and headed to Austin Fun Fun Fun Festival in December) Jesus Lizard, was the tarpaper that held the Shack Shakers together. His fried-synapse chords managed - somewhat - to throw an electric leash over the hell-for-leather rhythm section of doghouse bassist Mark Robertson and drummer Brett Wilkes.
The Shack Shakers come from a mutated, mythical America - specifically the South - that really only exists when bands of their ilk are onstage. (We wish there were more, but not that
many more.) As Tuesday turned into Wednesday, Wilkes' face grew ever redder and Robertson's bass pounded like the inside of your skull.
It wasn't hard to imagine, at all, that Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, Carl Perkins and Bon Scott were sitting around a table somewhere, belts undone from a hearty meal of fried chicken, grits and greens, smoking huge cigars with shit-eating grins on their faces wider than Old Man River himself.