Review by Peter Coates
There is a haunting menace to the vocal arrangement in the title track of this latest release from the Jefferson City, Missouri southern country alt-rockers Shaman’s Harvest…….a band I am ashamed to admit had passed me by until this, Red Hands Black Deeds, their 6 th studio album was promised for review.
20 years in the creation, from the band formation in 1996, this is something of a concept record, looking to highlight the contrasts between good and bad, and right or wrong, in the environment of the new USA administration. After multiple listens my view is that this is just a very good and diverse heavy rock album that shows off a number of musical influences and genres, and demonstrates some excellent songwriting and musicianship.
As the voices fade from the short Red Hands Black Deeds vocal piece, providing an initial glimpse of Nathan Hunt’s wide range and power, the band explodes into a riff straight from the QOTSA songbook, which then morphs into something more substantial, with almost choral harmonies and some frenetic drumming driving the beat. Some sharp crisp snare beats then lead into the wonderfully commercial hook-laden The Come Up which cruises along with hints of Hoobastank and My American Heart if they had grown up, with some old school rock’n’roll swagger. This is the first single of the record and should be on high rotation on all commercial rock stations worldwide!
The most powerful song on the record has more of the vocal prowess front and center, with such warmth and emotion in the delivery, as it builds up in intensity, with keys and strings adding to what started out as just piano and voice – A Longer View would not be out of place of MCR’s Black Parade album but could equally fit on half a dozen other types of record.
Off-beat pop-rock hits you up next with Soul Crusher which has the Motown vibe of a late-night dive venue, all red velvet and red lights, as if Nick Cave fronted Matchbox 20 for a song written by Marilyn Manson…..as you can tell my ability to adequately classify this band is limited in the extreme. The last two albums which I rushed out and bought as soon as I heard the teaser for this one, have a more conventional southern heavy country rock feel, but that is not the case here.
A catchy blues intro with a bit of skiffle and a deep southern drawl opens up Off The Tracks which shifts into a rip-roaring below the belt ode to the charms of a dangerous lady…….”you’re the only one who can f**k with my game!” being the punchline! We then hit the brakes for a reverb-heavy guitar opening to Long Way Home which is much more of a southern blues lament, allowing Hunt to really explore the emotions over the guitar and some old-school electric piano, before long-time guitarist Derrick Shipper lets rip with the solo, and the two of them harmonise their way to the end of the song.
The Devil In Our Wake opens with a minute or more of moody atmospheric guitar and bass before the drums fade in and we kick of a dirty fuzz-driven southern rock riff, which clearly shares influences with Black Stone Cherry and allows recent recruit Adam Zemanek to really let rip on the drums, providing the crisp driving beat for the verse, and pounding his kit into submission in the chorus. It’s the turn of bassist Matt Fisher to lead the charge on Blood Trophies which has a more classic blues-rock tinge to it, and features the best guitar solo on the record. This track is the alter-ego of the title track, featuring the Red Hands Black Deeds symbolism again through the lyrics.
Another fuzzy riff is the basis for So Long which is the second ballsy southern blues rocker, driven along by bass and drums and with some interesting contrasts in the backing vocals and some off-beat rhythms through the chorus. This is followed by the raw stripped-back ballad that is Tusk And Bone, which has a Celtic lilt to the words and harmonies, and a sense of myth and legend, “when giants walked among us”, which builds slowly into a poignant guitar solo as the band lets the emotion take over.
Scavengers is the closer, ominous and visceral, with heavily distorted opening vocals over bare guitars and a monotonous bass line running through the song until it fades into the background. The song is all the more powerful because it doesn’t do the obvious and build into a climactic finish.
As you wait for the record to stop…..and think about what to play next, we get a tasty piece of comedy country blues involving slightly out of tune guitars and a pleading request to bring us “Hookers and Blow”!
A common feature of this record, and listening to it multiple times on different players, is the number of layers on even the hardest rocking tracks……the band has shifted to a real analog recording style with producer, and this rawness characterises all aspects of the playing and the sound, but there are so many subtle nuances in the background…..whether it be the keys and string section, the wailing female backing vocals, the bits of spoken word and poetry, and the many levels of the vocal performance, all the more remarkable given the serious bout of aggressive throat cancer suffered by Hunt as the previous album was being recorded in 2014.
That record, Smokin’ Hearts and Broken Guns, was described as “safe modern rock” by at least one reviewer, with comparisons to Soundgarden and more traditional southern blues rock, and in my view too there is a more straight ahead modern blues rock feel to the earlier work. This record is a significant development on the last two records I have had on heavy rotation for the past month, and generally shows a much broader range of maturity and sophistication in the music and the lyrics which promises much more for the future.
I’m off to try and find the first three albums now!
SHAMAN’S HARVEST – Red Hands Black Deeds
Mascot Label Group
Release date 28 th July 2017