According to his label’s website, Rick Shaffer released his first album in 1971 with his band Freight Train. In the late Seventies he was rather busy with The Reds®, who were quite active until the mid-Eighties. It was only in 2007 and 2009 where they came back with two albums. Since 2010, Rick Shaffer once again concentrated on his solo career. For a man who must be about sixty years old, there are no signs of fatigue, as since then he has released every year a new album. Stacked Deck is thus his fourth album since his revived solo comeback.
Not much has changed over the last few years, except that it seems as if he’s refining his craft. Reading through the liner notes, I understand quickly that I’m too young and/or uninformed to truly understand everything he is doing, but then you don’t have to have a PhD to understand raucous garage delta blues. I admit that this is usually not my favourite musical genre, but there’s something about Rick Shaffer that just makes it impossible not to enjoy his short but tremendously honest songs. He is playing most of the instruments himself, although he has a couple of guests who add further bass and drum tracks. It’s especially the very prominent percussion ensemble that give the songs an authentic vibe. And let’s face it: percussive spoons have always been something uniquely cool.
While the bass guitar has been left rather in the background, it’s especially the vocals and slide guitar we have to concentrate our energies on. Shaffer is excellent in both domains. His guitar playing is very varied, ranging from fuzzy proto punk harshness, to damp bluesy slide extravaganzas. His vocals match the mood: he is certainly not what most people would consider a gifted singer, but then neither is Lou Reed, and look what an impact he has had on the rock’n’roll circus! Rick Shaffer knows that less is more, and while a good half hour for ten tracks may seem like a little on the short side, it also guarantees that there are no idle moments.
Blues enthusiasts will have a field day dissecting all the influences of, and nods to, blues giants, but I think I prefer my more naïve approach that lets me seamlessly enjoy Stacked Deck from the punkish opener “I Won’t Deny,” to the concluding lethargic psycho blues ballad “Time Or Love.” The album was recorded in Michigan and Mississippi, and somehow this juxtaposition of garage rock and swamp blues couldn’t have been produced in a more authentic way. Unaware listeners might even mistake this for something obscure straight out of the Sixties. While I have enjoyed all of Rick Shaffer’s previous efforts, I dare say that Stacked Deck sees this artist at his peak.
Pascal Thiel • DisAgreement • Luxembourg