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Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers - Pandelirium

The Sounds of New American Gothic

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers - Pandelirium


Cover art courtesy of Yep Roc Records

Pandelirium is a dark, discordant album that makes me want to figure out a way to use cacophonous in a sentence. Since I just did (for those playing at home, it means to have a harsh, dissonant sound) I'll move on to tell you why it's simply one of the best albums I've heard in quite a while.

An Visualization Exercise

Close your eyes and picture this -

Did you close your eyes? If you're still reading this, you didn't. This is good, because I just realized that closing your eyes would keep you from reading the rest of the review. Instead, just imagine it -

You're driving through a dark swamp in the deep south in the dead of the night. You are hopelessly lost, slowly rumbling down a muddy unmarked dirt road, barely wide enough for your car. The undergrowth is reaching in on you from the sides, and your headlights barely pierce the thick hot darkness in front of your car, and the blackness is closing behind you, almost audibly. You couldn't turn around if you wanted to.

Suddenly, as the digital clock on your dash reads midnight, you roll into a brightly clearing. Here, miles from anywhere, there's a carnival. Carnival barkers, fire eaters and circus freaks of every sort turn to look at you. It's unnatural, seedy and uncomfortable; there is something here that puts a sinking feeling in your stomach - this isn't right.

Can you picture this? Now know this - if you ever end up at this carnival, Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers are going to be the band that's playing.

The Dark Side of The Down Home

Calling themselves "New American Gothic", Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers draw their influence from the dark underbelly of America's musical heritage. Pandelirium is a blend of dark Dixieland jazz, Texas polkas, southern blues, old-school honky tonk and some serious punk rock. The resulting album is a bit creepy, vaguely evil, and highly addictive.

As well guest appearances from heavy-hitters Jello Biafra and The Reverend Horton Heat, Pandelirium also features a wide array of traditional instrumentation. Along with guitar, upright bass and drums, the Shakers use harmonica, organ, joo's harp, horns, fiddles and even a glockenspiel. They add to the authenticity - and to the malevolent sound.

Front man J.D. Wilkes has a voice that winds its way from comparisons to Tom Waits to croaking crooning, shrieking demonic noise, always fitting the moment of the record. Often his lyrics are the glue that prevents the compositions from dissolving into chaos; without his vocals, the sound would be incomplete, and a bit too messy.

Unbelievably Good

Whether it's because of or in spite of the creepiness of its sound, the album is unbelievably good. It's exquisite. It's almost too good. It conjures up images of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil in order to play guitar, with Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers a few yards behind him at the crossroads.

As the Shakers blast through murder ballads and morbid dance tunes with titles like "Somethin' In The Water" and "Bible, Candle & Skull", you are transported down the back roads of American music, brought to a place where things were not as clean as you thought they might have been. From beginning to end, the album is as fun as it is dark, and you'll keep listening to it over and over, hearing new details in the intricate songs each time.

Pandelirium is calling you to a big tent revival, just don't be surprised to see a hangman's gallows inside that tent - or to realize that you're having a really good time dancing along.

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