Grand Ole Echo with Chris Shiflett  & The Dead Peasants

Grand Ole Echo


Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants

The self-titled debut album from Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants shows a new, perhaps unexpected side of the longtime Foo Fighter lead guitarist: his skill at writing slightly dialed-down, infectious Americana-laced rock songs. The album is chock-full of soulful pedal steel- and twang guitar-accented songs steeped in his longtime appreciation of classic country artists (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams), rockabilly (Gene Vincent, Elvis, Eddie Cochran), and deep-rooted rock bands (The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, X). Built around Shiflett's innate pop sensibilities and punk enthusiasm, each track reveals new layers on repeated and ever rewarding listens.

Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants sets aside Shiflett's big guitar sound played through a distortion pedal and a loud amp in favor of twangy electric guitars and his beloved Martin acoustic. The album highlights his versatility and skill not only as a guitarist – showcasing his deft playing in an entirely new light – but also as a songwriter: the songs are some of the best, most realized that he's written. Lyrically, the songs frequently deal with loss…Loss of love, as in the soulful, heavy, ballad-esque "God Damn;" in the chiming keys and buoyant, ringing guitars that belie the crestfallen relationship-gone-wrong of "Get Along;" and in the pedal steel, mandolin, and evocative guitar solo that underline the heartache on "Bandaged"…Or of life, as in the stirring, bluesy groove of "An Atheist's Prayer;" the rueful slide guitar, country swing of "Death March;" and the spry, jaunty, Old 97s-ian "Baby, Let It Out."

For Shiflett, also known for his two albums with rock/punk project Jackson United, the formation of The Dead Peasants can be traced back to preparation for a 2008 performance at the Hootenanny, a punk-rockabilly festival in Orange County, CA. A short while after, friend Joey Cape (of Lagwagon) asked him to open on an acoustic tour, for which Shiflett re-worked a few older songs for a more intimate setting in addition to some cover songs (such as this album's "Burning Lights," which Joe Strummer plays in the 1990 Finnish movie I Hired A Contract Killer). Inspiration struck throughout this process and he began writing the songs that would make up Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants over the course of 2008/9.

The album was recorded in December 2009/January 2010 at the Foo Fighters' Studio 606 in Los Angeles, CA, with house engineer John Lousteau, who both engineered and handled the drums. Shiflett called upon friend Derek Silverman to play keyboards and the trio would become the core band for the recordings. Once the basic tracking was done, various instrumentation was added by a select group of esteemed players, including Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and The Imposters, Jenny Lewis, John Hiatt) on bass, Greg Leisz (Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown) on pedal steel, Stevie Blacke (Beck, Weezer, Colbie Caillat) on violin and mandolin, Eddie Perez (Dwight Yoakam) on guitar, and Audra Mae on backing vocals.

The future’s bright for the young Angeleno And an old song plays in his head Far as he knows. . .

These lines from the title track of Sam Outlaw's debut album Angeleno could almost serve as a haiku-like artist bio. Outlaw is a southern Californian singer-songwriter steeped in the music and mythos of west coast country, absorbing the classic vibes of everything from '60s Bakersfield honky-tonk to '70s Laurel Canyon troubadour pop and refashioning them into a sound that's pleasurably past, present and future tense.

“The music I play, I call 'SoCal country,'” says Outlaw. “It's country music but with a Southern California spirit to it. What is it about Southern California that gives it that spirit, I don't exactly know. But there's an idea that I like that says - every song, even happy songs, are written from a place of sadness. If there's a special sadness to Southern California it's that there's an abiding shadow of loss of what used to be. But then, like with any place, you have a resilient optimism as well.”

While he explores those shadows on the title track and the elegiac “Ghost Town,” Outlaw mostly comes down on the side of the optimists through Angeleno's dozen tracks. Opener “Who Do You Think You Are?” breezes in with south of the border charm, all sunny melody wrapped in mariachi horns, while “I'm Not Jealous” is a honky-tonker with a smart twist on the you-done-me-wrong plot. “Love Her For A While” has the amiable lope of early '70s Poco, “Old Fashioned” the immediacy of a touch on the cheek, and the future Saturday night anthem “Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)” shows Outlaw has a sense of humor to match his cowboy poet nature. Throughout, producers Ry and Joachim Cooder frame the material with spare, tasteful arrangements, keeping the focus on Outlaw's voice. And it's a voice that indeed seems to conjure up California in the same way as Jackson Browne's or Glenn Frey's. Easy on the ears, open-hearted, always with an undertow of melancholy.

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