Historic moments in `shaking’: 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis declares `there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on,’ 1965, Sam Cooke merely tells all of us to simply `shake,’ 1989, the Beastie Boys urge us to `shake your rump.’ And now, in our own era, there are those legendary shakers of shacks, J.D. Wilkes fronting a trio of Southern madmen, `tetched’ musicians who have partaken in too much moonshine, too much partying and too much rock and roll, except that, according to the Shack*Shakers themselves, there’s no such thing. Pandelirium is the band’s third album, and their second for Yep Roc which will create, according to Wilkes, an `unfolding trilogy of new American gothic.’
Believe, the first in the gothic trilogy, started with the sound of a train whistle. Pandelirium, aptly enough, starts with maniacal laughter. The hoboes have departed the train and are ransacking a town and liquor store near you! “Ichabod” is that song, finding our not-so-humble, yet doomed to hell narrator comparing himself to the similarly fated Washington Irving character. There’s nothing quite so uproariously rock and roll than the themes of eternal damnation through wine, women and song, and the Shack*Shakers change that to whiskey, hookers and a wailin’ Gretsch. Plus, any song that uses the word `tintinnabulation’ in the lyrics is alright with me. The somewhat aforementioned “No Such Thing” compares items like a `free dollar’ and `the face of the Lord in the wood of the door’ as non-existent, along with the voices in Wilkes’ head. Of that, I’m not so sure.
“Iron Lung Oompah” takes the Shakers’ patented nitro-fueled Southern gothic rock, combines it with a little bit of Oktoberfest, Eastern European gypsy music and Oingo Boingo’s ersatz yearly Halloween concert, making one completely insane concoction. Wilkes gives us a little bit of a history lesson about Paducah, Kentucky and the Union Carbide plant that enriched Uranium in the song “Somethin’ in the Water (The Union Carbide Blues).” It’s the best argument against nuclear power I’ve witnessed since Homer Simpson. “Jipsy Valentine (For Lula)” is like the Squirrel Nut Zippers after a major sugar rush. The instrumental “Thin the Herd” leaves you gasping for breath by the close of the song. For pure nonsensical fun, there’s always “Monkey on the Doghouse.” I’m not sure there’s any meaning to this song at all, but who needs it when music is this hell-bent? Wilkes even tries a yodel at one point during “The Ballad of Speedy Atkins.”
J.D. Wilkes fills me with hope. Huh? How, you may be asking, does someone so obsessed with an `evil’ lifestyle fill me with hope? Because, over the years, I’ve always flirted with the idea of getting that ultra-cool punk / rockabilly look, complete with pompadour, tattoos, vintage fifties’ clothes and the ever present pack of Luckies, but there’s no way I could pull it off. One look at J.D., and I’d assume there were lots of people who told him the same thing. Here’s this scrawny, bespectacled milquetoast kind of a guy shouting hellfire and damnation, and doing it like it’s not so much trappings of the career, but a bona fide `calling.’ In doing research for this review, I discovered that mere hours before I started writing, the Shakers’ entire trailer full of gear was stolen. (Ok, first of all, I am in Seattle, nowhere near Nashville where the trailer is / was, despite my earlier admiration for the lifestyle, so there’s my alibi). Seeing the list of instruments and gear that were actually in the trailer physically pained me. They say it’s better to have loved and lost, but is the same true for these items? I know that I’d rather never own a Gretsch, let alone two, or a King Doublebass Road King, than to have loved these majestic instruments and know the pain of their loss from theft. And to the thief out there with the trailer, you’ve essentially separated supremely talented men from the tools of their trade. For shame! Now we all know who is really going to hell.