Shanda & The Howlers - ‘Trouble’ (Rum Bar Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Gerald Stansbury   
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 04:00

Shanda coverThere are times when some record labels have developed a strong enough track record that I am compelled to check out their new releases even if I have never heard of the band. Rum Bar Records has established that reputation in my mind with recent releases by Watts and Bullet Proof Lovers serving as examples. I had an idea before listening to the record what kind sound Shanda and the Howlers have, which really had me looking forward to this one.

 

The band from Las Vegas specialize in playing a 1960’s rhythm and blues style with first song ‘Keep Telling Me’ establishing the band’s signature within the first 30 seconds of the song. Some fuzzy guitar over the beat and horn leads to Shanda Cisneros’s powerful vocals. Trevor Johnson throws in a cool guitar solo, and the chorus lingers in the head on first listen. This is music from another time done exquisitely. ‘She Don’t Want a Man’ begins with a quicker beat before transitioning into a song that owes its roots to Motown. It’s not hard to imagine a crowd in a bar crowding the dance floor with drinks in the air. The easy going ‘Trouble’s Out to Play’ showcases the depth of Shanda’s vocals as she effortlessly sings with power and restraint. One of the last bands I heard that had a vocalist capable of capturing a crowd like this is the much-missed Black Carl from Arizona whose Emma Pew could wrap an audience around her finger.

 

The pace picks up a little with ‘Don’t Need Your Love’ featuring some cool sax by Mich Lapping. I am a firm believer that every rock band should have access to a sax player, and this song highlights why. Luke Metz (bass) and Keith Alcantara (drums) swing the beat when needed and pound it when necessary. ‘Born with a Broken Heart’ slows the album down with a big throwback ballad. Shanda owns this one, which reminds me musically of Otis Redding. I can imagine the crowd being so silent as they hang on each word. The brief solo is handled by the sax before coming right back to Shanda to nail the ending.

 

 

The album hits the halfway point with the quick blues of ‘Don’t Wait Up’ highlights the grittiness in the band. John Fallon’s production is on the money as the music and vocals have plenty of room to breathe.

The mix is not too busy with instruments all allowed their moments to shine. ‘Stay Awhile’ has a clever little guitar riff to set up the beat with the song also showcasing a softer side to Shanda’s vocals. One of the other contemporaries that comes to mind is Charlie Faye who mines some similar musical territory.

 

The slide guitar introduces ‘Mind Made Up’ which motors along in the blues with a low tone in the sax reflecting the back alleys on this one. Trevor continues to make this a showcase for him on the guitar with a hot solo leading the song into the home stretch. ‘Li’l Operator’ allows Shanda to sing with a smooth voice over some subtle backing vocals that complete the song. This song is one of my favorites on the record. The slow band blues introduce ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ which could kill the momentum of other records but not this one. One of the artists that came to mind on this one was actually Carole King. The guitar solo is reserved and allows a respite before Shanda brings down the house. Luke and Keith again showing a great ability to carry the heavy work of the rhythm section that allows Shanda to do her thing.

 

The album concludes with ‘Bad Love’ which I would have moved on the track list as I think it suffers following ‘You’re Gonna Cry,’ which would have been my closer. ‘Bad Love’ is not a bad song by any means, but the listener is emotionally spent. It channels its influence from the glory days of Stax Records.

Rum Bar Records again proves they are hitting gold with the artists they are releasing. While this band might not appeal to everyone musically and is definitely not trendy, I will be playing this album for a long time. I highly recommend giving them a listen, and you can even stream their album on BandCamp.

 

  • ‘Trouble’ is out now. You can get your copy HERE.

 

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