Rick Shaffer’s album, “Hidden Charms,” continues, expands, and nicely follows-up the feel of his first solo album, “Necessary Illusion,” released March of 2010.  The idea is to have the album sound new and old simultaneously, allowing it to find it’s place in a radio mix from 1965 and beyond.

The sonic blueprint for “Hidden Charms” is a proto–garage rock/blues,heavenly distorted guitar, with melodies buried beneath a mash-up of unadulterated garage vibe.  Inspired by Link Wray’s Swan Singles Collection, early Stones, and heavy doses of Mississippi Hill Country Blues Bop.  The basic track sound is a simple, but steady primitive hypnotic beat and percussion, ultra distorted guitar, and aggressive raw vocals with intense personal lyric content.

The opener ”No Big Thing” is a short and fast rocker in the mold of 1964-65 Stones’ r&b years, with some hyperactive fuzz-toned guitar, jangle tambourine, stroll-backbeat and a frantic pschobilly vocal, where the message is no matter what comes at you “ain’t no big thing.”  

“Buy and Sell” has a reverb soaked guitar hook, oversaturated riffs, driving Maureen Tucker drum beat, a subdued confessional lead vocal, with Leon & Les contributing some nice mid 60’s cool with their background vocals. This song has one of the more catchy hooks, and is a true candidate for a single.

“Shadow Line” is a stripped-down smooth chugging rocker, with thick atmospherics that burn with a quiet intensity,  exploding in the middle, then resolved in the end refrain. This track explores and defines much of the lyrical content of the album, one of standing up for bad luck, mistakes, wrong choices, and most importantly, living in the moment.  Thank you Joseph Conrad.

“Nobody Home” has some thick, heavy “Mojo Raunch” going on, with a bluesy delta tremolo riff, and gravelly vocal.  Laid down straight up with tambourine, snare drum and guitar, a Hill Country stomp, with a  bass and tremolo overdub.  This track has a Jesse May Hemphill/Howlin’ Wolf vibe inside a wall of distortion.  

“Crime Of Love” is a great minor key R&B rocker in the vein of the Otis Rush hit, “Homework,” with a driving backbeat and jangle tambourines, “Premier Reverberation” guitar hook, combined with a soulful twisting vocal hook.  The theme of this track  . . . how much murder is the result of lying, cheating and jealously . . . “still be goin’ on.“

“Cruel World” was recorded in the Mississippi Hill Country, with the rhythm section of Leon Wingfield and Les Chishom, who also kicked in some vocals on this one.  A slide number with deep-throated vocal delivery, about the ever present “killer on the highway,” set to a pumping, insistent riff (a nod to The Yardbirds and Mick Ronson), with a savage slide part, to have the song exist raw and pure in it’s form.

“Breakin’ Down” has a slow, bluesy, loose, laidback groove set to a white noise boogie guitar background, with a two-step bass/drum hop, slinking slide guitar, a pleading, desperate vocal conjuring up visions of the freefall breakdown on many levels, and the unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” that allows it to exist . . . “politics, religion . . . only steal when they can.”

On the track “Gonna Shout” the original menace arrives with feedback, banging drum and percussion, followed by a psychotic distorted guitar riff weaving it’s way throughout the song, with slashing guitar counter punches, and a hyped up vocal in a paranoid claustrophobic garage power pop song, accompanied by the most nasty “goonish” background vocals.

“Tight Like That” is a classic Stonesy/Chuck Berry riff, against a caustic grinding sleazy groove guitar, with a loose, soulful vocal.  A middle slide section, and sharp fuzzed out guitar, interplay on the breakdown that grabs and smashes you against the wall.  It’s a fantastic driving song . . . imagine a convertible, wind blowing over you, an empty highway ahead and “Tight Like That” playing FUCKING LOUD.

“The Stranger” has violent dreamlike Sergio Leone/Alejandro Jodorowskyimagery, married to a driving John Lee Hooker blood splattered groove, a primal howl with murderous lyrics that take it to it’s logical extreme.  The track fades and sinks into your head with the closing line, “time ain’t on my side.” 

For your listening pleasure, the Guy Stevens Producer Manuel was used in full compliance in the making of this album . . . made loud to be played loud . . . turn it the hell up.

● Tarock Music ● February 11, 2011