Rick Shea – Love & Desperation: Album Review

Eclectic Californian veteran Rick Shea brings us songs with stories, and some sublime guitar

Release Date:  12th February 2021

Label: Tres pescadores Records

Formats: CD / mp3

Rick Shea has a reputation for eclecticism.  Never particularly controversial or political, he makes the points he wants to make by telling stories in ways that you wouldn’t expect, to music that is sometimes derivative and sometimes highly original and always expertly played.  He’s been around for a long time – over four decades in fact – as a solo artist and as a member of such outfits as Chris Gaffney & The Cold Hard Facts and Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men. Love & Desperation is his twelfth album. 

Rick is a master lyricist and storyteller and a wonderful guitarist and pedal steel player. Love & Desperation is a showcase for all these talents.  The music abounds with fluent guitar solos in a variety of tones, all structured and chosen to suit perfectly the mood and the subject matter of the songs.  What’s more, Rick has selected some top-class musicians to provide a tight, accomplished backing to his voice and guitar The whole thing is topped off by wonderful accordion fills and counterparts from Phil Parlapiano (Dead Rock West) and Skip Edwards (Dwight Yoakham’s longtime keyboardist.)

Love & Desperation has had a troubled birth.  Recording started in Spring 2019 in Rick’s studio at Covina, Southern California but was brought to a halt by the onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020.  The album was, by necessity, completed digitally with each of the musicians adding or completing their parts from remote studios.  It’s a testimony to the quality of the contributing musicians and to Rick’s production talents that you can’t see the join. This album sounds like it was recorded by a band all sitting in the same room and having a great time together into the bargain!

Just about all the Southern USA musical styles are represented here.  We’ve got a nod to Cajun on the opening track Blues Stop Knockin On My Door and slow, Hank Williams inspired country (complete with the semi-yodels in the vocal delivery) on Blues at Midnight.  Big Rain Is Comin’ Mama is a country two-step, Juanita (Why Are You so Mean) is Tex/Mex and the excellent Mystic Canyon is a dreamy instrumental.

And as for the storytelling… The album is full of that, and the production gives top priority to the vocal clarity, so you don’t miss a word of what’s going on. In (Down At The Bar At) Gypsy Sally’s, Rick describes a (half-real, half-imagined) scene at one of the less salubrious venues that he’s played – “Pick your pills, pick your poison, but yeah – you sure don’t pick a fight” is a typical line.  The title track is a semi-autobiographical reflection on the relationship between his parents. Nashville Blues looks at the hazards of show business – how booze, cocaine, and the wrong women can kill a performer’s dreams – and also dismantles the romantic myth of Nashville, while Texas Lawyer is a story of treachery and deceit, set in the Texas/Mexico border country.

The World’s Gone Crazy was inspired by a harrowing episode of The Rachel Maddow Show: a US television programme that investigates the state of political affairs and the transparency/accountability (or otherwise) of political leaders in relation to those affairs. The lyrics are brief, blunt, and to the point. They capture the effect that current issues (whatever they may be) are having upon normal people, without making a political statement, and offer wise advice, such as “You’d better hold on to the ones that you love” and “Everybody better just hold on.” The message is delivered with a strong, guitar-laced tune that has a shade of Creedence about it.

But overwhelmingly, it’s the musicianship and Rick’s guitar, pedal steel, and dobro contributions in particular, that really distinguishes this album.  We get an early introduction to his fluent playing on Blues Stop Knocking At My Door and it doesn’t stop.  The pedal steel is outstanding on She Sang Of The Earth, Big Rain Is Comin’ Mama and A Tenderhearted Lass (Rick’s dedication to his wife and the trials and tribulations of being married to a working musician) and the dobro on Nashville Blues is sublime.  It’s on the instrumental Mystic Canyon though that Rick and the band really excel and Rick’s guitar playing on this beautiful tune is outstanding. The way he bends the strings on his telecaster brings to mind Jerry Donahue at his very best.

So – another excellent album has emerged from the enforced isolation of the COVID year.  Give this one a listen, it’s very easy to enjoy.

Watch the official video to The World’s Gone Crazy here:

Rick Shea online: Website/ Facebook/ YouTube

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