I’m about to take some road trips; I have some speeches to give and seminars to lead. Shiny Shiny Black’s new album, Wild Edges, is going with me. (If only they could come play live at my speaking gigs.)
One of the best things about taking a road trip is finger food. Crackers are a good place to start: I always liked Ritz crackers or Wheat Thins. My problem is that I just keep eating them until I’ve eaten a whole sleeve, or a whole box. They’re just kind of there in your lap and you keep on munching. That’s the snare drum on this album, it just keeps popping into your mouth and you can’t get enough. You’re going to eat the whole box, and you know it when you turn the key in the ignition, before you back out of the garage. You can’t help yourself.
Shiny Shiny Black’s entire sound for not only this album, but the previous one (Travelers) as well, majors on this guitar that I want to call twangy though it’s nowhere near country-western. Among the tags SSB uses on their own website (how they define their own sound) are labels like Rockabilly and Americana. The guitar sounds very rockabilly indeed, but I think of that genre as being a bit faster-paced. Now, when this guitar comes in on track one (Gone) it’s like putting a thick slice of garlic venison summer sausage on your snare drum-Ritz cracker. I mean, they just go together, and you can just keep eating that until you’ve eaten all the salami, too. That might sound like something you’d get tired of, but it’s only five songs (plus a bonus track) so it doesn’t get old before it’s over.
Other than the snappy drum and clean reverberating guitar, there’s not a ton of instrumentation on the album; at least not in any sort of prominent way. There’s a bit of Hammond organ, which I really like, maybe a touch of banjo. But my favorite part of the mix is Amber’s voice (blended other female voices, Nate tells me) backing vocals. They’re mixed in perfectly: the harmony is tight, her voice is as smooth as ever, and the volume level is perfect too. Your ear’s going to enjoy that vocal and the organ here and there like a Starbuck’s Frappucchino: when you’re listening to an album that feels like it’s precisely designed for a road trip in the car, you need something that eats up time, but keeps you awake, too. That’s what the touch of organ and the backup vocals do for this album: they are the caffeine. They make you listen closely, just the way caffeine helps you watch the road.
In simple yet poetic language, the lyrics give you the dynamic tension between wanting to always be away and a hunger for home. This is the perfect album for a “third-culture kid”. It’s said that children whose parents are from one culture, and who are raised in a different culture, are most at home in airports. They have a sort of perpetual wanderlust. Lyrically this album should appeal to everyone who has been raised in different cultures than they inhabit, left home, made peace with those cultures, and somehow found their way back home. Or, at least, people who have made a nest inside of different cultures that fits them, like one of those Russian nesting dolls. The track “Hallelujah” speaks of finding something good out of a wacky culture. Overall, the first five tracks take you away from home and bring you full circle back. The bonus, a nod to making music while raising children, teaching them to shoot for the stars, gives us a reminder that no matter how road weary, how much we’ve found our home, there’s always something new to wonder about.
There’s one change I think I would have preferred: I would have used that soft Hammond organ on track six instead of the guitar. They could get a sound that’s a little less percussive than the arpeggio plucking of guitar strings, and capitalize on the fact that the organ was there in the first place. It would have been cohesive and a bit softer.
Nate Butler has been around a bunch of different musical styles. I wouldn’t say he’s played everything, (I don’t remember seeing him in a tux playing William Tell’s Overture on the timpani, though I’m sure he could do it) but for those who remember his Frequency Theater days, and who may have missed SSB’s first album, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. The Butlers haven’t. In fact, Nate, especially, has taken a lot of back roads to get on this Interstate, or Intergalactic highway, steered his semi straight, and he’s going to get that million miles behind him. What I’m saying is, he’s found his truck, or his route, or his Millenium Falcon, and they’re in hyper-drive. They are cruising. SSB says this is their best effort yet. I’m not sure it’s better than Travelers, but that was a really great album, more songs, which equates naturally to perhaps more depth and variety. Lyrically, Wild Edges has every bit as much depth as you can cram into an EP. I’m also a fan of simple, non-esoteric lyrics, and they’ve nailed that. This sophomore album is so consistent with the debut, it’s clear they’ve not only found the niche (Americana) but developed a trucking brand. Shiny, Shiny Black, y’all: not a product of luck; rather, a product of sweat, high polish, spit-shine, time, and drive.
Why you should buy this album: If you are a blue-blooded American, there’s a good chance you take a road trip now and then. You need this album for your next road trip. “The best place I’ve ever been is on the road.” If you don’t have “Travelers” you should pick that up for your road trip, too.
Here’s where you can preorder the album, a whole variety of stuff, including tickets to the album release show, signed drumsticks and other whatnots. Available through September 23. This is not a Kickstarter– the album is happening no matter what, so they’re using a different service, but similar.
Here is the band’s website.
Album release party info for people in the Goshen, IN, area (or willing to drive or fly in, I’m sure you’re welcome!) is available at this facebook link.
I was not compensated by SSB to write this review, although I was of course given a pre-release copy of the CD.