—by John Pfeiffer, July 10, 2013
Eryn Shewell has been doing her own thing for as long as I can remember. If there was ever a theoretical situation where a bunch of musicians would be hanging out in a group, inevitably there would be Shewell, off in a corner with her own group of people. As far as being part of the scene, she’s always remained distant from the broader-based bunch, and I understand why.
Ever since she released Window Pane in 2008, Shewell has evolved in a quick and logical manner, shedding stylistic skins in an effort to end up where her latest self-titled release has taken her. Eryn is an artist who utilizes goals and stepping stone compositional woodshedding as everyday habit, and it has put her into a unique and success-dominated position and a field of adult R&B, soul and contemporary pop choices.
The new CD features 10 interesting songs ranging from New Orleans-tinged Dixieland to the glimmering, guitar savvy sounds of summer-splashed Americana country. Shewell’s bio tells of a brand new theme, brand new band and songs to match.
Eryn Shewell and her new band, The Whiskey Devils, use this opportunity to shed jeans and leather in favor of evening gowns and tuxedos as they roll out a class loaded collection on Shewell’s fourth full release to date.
As songs spin from the PC, I capture all manner of thoughts and impressions that serve as the very key to Eryn Shewell’s cumulative, musical soul.
Shewell winds up and fires off an involved mixture of R&B and alternative country twang on “Fall.” Shewell is a dynamic master as she swings high to low, steering the band down mid-tempo highways of boot scooting afternoons of lovers in motion. Shewell has reminiscent vibrations of Jewel (“Who Will Save Your Soul”) but never borrows more than she needs to push this breezy, California country song back to the barn.
“Suck it Up” is R&B at its rawest. Shewell shines under the heart-rending anguish of the blues. Dobros zip open string riffage up and down wooden necks as bass, drums and piano meter the infectious, toe-tapping backbeat. The sax work of Michael Ghegan is an attention grabber as it races in, jabs out staccato bleats of rock and roll lineage before receding back under Shewell’s bluesy growl. Shewell gets back to the business of never letting them see you sweat. I love the sheer power of her voice, and you can literally hear her giving everything she has here.
“Boy Like You” features acoustic open-voiced picking and dark, Les Paul-toned electrics under Charlie Rich piano rolls. Shewell’s voice is Whitney Houston sweet as she tells her confessional story of love’s immeasurable choices. Middle eight pianos set up the song’s outstanding bridge. Once again, Shewell works it out to make the specific genre all her own.
“Afraid Of The Dark” is a 1940s Noir-loaded Cab Calloway jam that explodes from the get-go. Dangerous, alleyway boogie flairs as brass blows the top of the kettle on “Afraid Of The Dark.” Shewell knew what she was doing when she picked her people for this record. The horn work of Michael Ghegan on sax and clarinet, Joel Mikulyak on trombone and James Gibbs on trumpet make this song jump straight over the moon. Shewell transports herself to outer worlds of vocal scalability, and it’s a wild ride. Guitars kick with switchblade warning, flashing and slashing rockabilly bedlam throughout the middle. Kudos to the arrangement here as it literally pops, crackles and hisses with the best swinging R&B swag this side of Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.
“High School Sweetheart” takes a trip out into the country with tons of harmonica hits and sweet, mid-loaded Dobro skronk. Packed with the “Hand Jive” magic of Johnny Otis, “High School Sweetheart” is a foot stomping, hand clapping look back into a memory of special romantic origins that we never can forget.
“Relax To Sleep” rings under tremolo guitars and Shewell’s soprano high melodies. Intro chords glimmer under compositional shift as drums and bass ease underneath and into the verse. Hand-picked guitar melodies hold in place as bass moves up and into harmonic alignment for the chorus set up. Volume knob swells beck and call before Pat Ruh releases his guitars, snarling and ripping into the Drive-By Truckers-inspired middle eight. Shewell’s choice of melody makes choruses stand way out front each and every time around. One of my top picks on the CD.
“Breath In” is a jazzy romp into Rickie Lee Jones territory. That’s not a bad influential thing, as Jones has been an immeasurable talent for years. Guitars pop under funk progressions and forays into seventh and ninth chord territory as background vocals create a “round” under the main voice, pushing the song into its colorful chorus. Light, airy and filled with promises of successful love, “Breath In” delivers vibrant splashes of 1970s jazz pop imagery.
“Backseat Romance Forecast” conjures up drive-in movies and unwatched screens as romance took control in the back of station wagons and Bel Airs everywhere. Organs whirl and horns build into crescendos of finger snapping R&B rock. Jazz inflected licks fly out of left field as organs surge and twirl. Fun ‘50s-oriented rock and roll good times.
“Simple” is a smooth pass thorough Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway territory. Pianos roll golden toned guidance over the top of succinct rhythmic work. Background vocals are just enough to shift the direction, refocusing Shewell’s verse work and pointing towards intricate piano voicings. I really like the arrangement work here. Smart compositional choices hold the reins of overkill and keep each part and section simple, vital and filled with the sounds of a summer day.
“I Wish I Was In New Orleans” flies from the disc with an old-time record crackling effect under solo, back porch gypsy guitar. Shewell launches her trademarked, sultry siren as the band slips into play. New Orleans horns scream and caterwaul as bass, drums and ragtime guitars chug and puff with Bourbon Street flair. Shewell is toned for days here, and the dynamic melody shifts are flawless. Ending audience chatter is traditional and harmonious as the band kicks back in for a jazzy, sassy good time hallelujah barroom jam.
2013 is a hallmark year for Eryn Shewell and The Whiskey Devils. With a new band, album and a freshly inked deal with booking agency Blue Raven Entertainment, Eryn looks to be sitting in the perfect position to grab everything she’s worked hard for these last few years.
Moreover, Shewell is looking for something much bigger than a career playing to hipsters in dive bars. This is an adult contemporary disc that culls years of experience with elations and triumphant wins, and places them in an intricate arrangement of production and presentation that will take her far up the ladder of commercial success.
Congratulations to all of the following fine players who appeared on the album: Eryn Shewell – vocals and guitar, Patty “Slidell” Ruh – guitars, piano and bass, Arne Wendt – keys, Jake O’ Handley – drums, Donna “Lady Bass” McPherson, Earl Sauls and Alan Green – bass, Chuggy Carter – percussion, Michael Ghegan – sax and clarinet, Joel Mikulyak – trombone, James Gibbs – trumpet, and Alice Leon – backup vocals.
To find out where you can acquire Eryn Shewell and check up on their live schedule, head over to erynshewell.com.