Title - 'Love & Desperation'
Artist - Rick Shea
If Rick Shea’s new album, Love & Desperation had a motto, it would likely be, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
The Southern California Americana artist’s 12th album — due from Anaheim, Calif.-based Tres Pescadores Records on October 23rd, 2020 as a physical and digital release respectively — is the product of unique recordings sessions that were the product of the unique challenges facing musicians in the year 2020.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Shea is, of course, no stranger to the studio. In addition to the work he has produced under his own name, he has compiled a formidable résumé that dates back to the ‘80s.
His instrumental and vocal talents have been employed in the late Chris Gaffney’s Cold Hard Facts and Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men, and he has worked with singer-songwriter Katy Moffatt and rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson.
Indeed, Rick began sessions for a new record in the spring of 2019 at his home studio Casa de Calora in Covina, employing top-flight talent such as drummer Shawn Nourse (Dwight Yoakam, I See Hawks in L.A.) bassist Jeff Turmes (Mavis Staples), and his longtime collaborator Dave Hall.
Work had progressed when the coronavirus pandemic brought the country to a standstill in early 2020. So Shea and his collaborators went the digital route, in their own backyards.
“It’s not a good time to be in a room all together these days,” Rick says. “And everybody’s trying to be as careful as they can. So I worked with guys who were set up to record.”
Thus, Nourse ended up cutting new drum parts at his own home studio Nourse by Northwest; accordionist/organist Phil Parlapiano of Dead Rock West tracked at his Electricdog Studio; Skip Edwards, best known as Dwight Yoakam’s longtime keyboardist, worked at his Studio 401; and accordionist David Jackson laid down his parts at (where else) StudioDave.
Rick adds, “The natural sound of this record is a testament to how good these guys are. I think they did just a wonderful job.”
But he admits that the old ways are still preferable: “More and more, it’s easier to move in this direction. But it’s hard to beat getting a group of guys into a room together.”
1. 'Blues, Stop Knockin' at My Door'
2. 'Blues at Midnight'
3. '(Down at the Bar at) Gypsy Sally's'
4. 'Love and Desperation'
5. 'She Sang of the Earth'
6. 'Big Rain Is Comin', Mama'
7. 'Tender Hearted Love'
8. 'Juanita, Why Are You So Mean'
9. 'The World's Gone Crazy'
10. 'Nashville Blues'
11. 'Mystic Canyon'
12. 'Texas Lawyer'
Part autobiography and part commentary, the songs are a reflection of these modern times, and he opens with the honky-tonk of 'Blues, Stop Knockin' at My Door' (a rockabilly number by swamp rocker Al Ferrier that was covered by bluesman Lazy Lester) and backs that up with the low slung twang of 'Blues at Midnight,' the upbeat, rattlesnake percussional storytelling of '(Down at the Bar at) Gypsy Sally's,' and then we get the driving, lonesome troubadour offering of the title track, 'Love and Desperation.'
The earnest country values of 'She Sang of the Earth' (a ballad collaboration with Kim Ringer, daughter of the late, respected singer-songwriter Jim Ringer) makes this one of my own personal favorites, and that's backed by the heartfelt anxiety of 'Big Rain Is Comin', Mama' (albeit a nice country two-step that also happens to be about impending doom), the lo-fi balladeering of 'Tender Hearted Love,' and then comes the feisty dancefloor polka of 'Juanita, Why Are You So Mean' (the title originating from the name of his wife Susie’s mom).
A mainstay of the California country, folk and honky-tonk scene (I mean, he's definitely up there with the likes of Tom Russell and Dave Alvin), a literate, melodic songsmith and a great guitarist toboot, Rick then brings us the forlorn renderings of 'The World's Gone Crazy' (a song written after having watched a particularly harrowing episode of The Rachel Maddow Show), which is followed by the gentle guitar twangs found within the cautionary tale 'Nashville Blues,' with the album rounding out on the ornately atmospheric instrumental 'Mystic Canyon,' closing on the Mariachi noir narrative appeal of 'Texas Lawyer' (which itself was inspired by the work of hardboiled novelist Elmore Leonard, and interestingly, is now the third time the song has appeared on a record).
“I got a lot of my musical education, for better or worse, in the bars and honky tonks in San Bernardino where I grew up, and ‘Blues at Midnight’ is a pretty good reflection of that," Rick explains about the song.
"‘(Down at the Bar at) Gypsy Sally’s’ borrows its title from Townes Van Zandt’s song ‘Tecumseh Valley.’ The scene is what I imagined some nights in some of the places I played and having some fun with it."
"It’s about the characters I looked at in those joints for years. That was their life – hanging out in bars, and having their little scene, their little hustle going."
“That’s kind of the way the album progressed,” Rick continues, “and it’s also the product of these times that we’re living in. To me, blues is what most popular music is based on, in the words of the great Townes Van Zandt ‘there’s two kinds of music, the blues and everything else is just Zippity Do Dah.’”
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