If you don’t think the ’60s was the most influential era in modern music, you must not be familiar with the revolutionaries of rock, R&B and jazz. The ’60s was when the wholesome attitudes of the ’50s erupted into the excessive behavior of the ’70s through a variety of social and cultural influences. In the 2000s we’re obsessed with reinventing former eras in everything from art and music to social movements. These days it’s all too common for musicians to focus on a forgotten, marginally artistic movement and make it the backbone of their music. This is not the case for Thee Shams. They’ve decided to take on the whole damn ’60s era, hippies and all.
On its second official release, Sign the Line, the Cincinnati quintet further crafts its ’60s sound in an attempt to interpret each genre the ’60s had to offer. Above all else, the band’s sound is more R&B and rock than the soul-pilfering style of the Detroit Cobras or the Beatles/Stones influence that informs more than a handful of modern bands. Brothers Zach and Andrew Gabbard guide Sign the Line with a heavy helping of guitar and Southern-rock-influenced vocals. They look to their bandmates for the occasional barroom piano romp or standard blues harmonica to tweak the setting just enough to create stylistic changes between songs. Unfortunately, the result sounds more like a watered-down version of the Soundtrack of Our Lives and less like something coming from a versatile group of musicians.
Opener “Not Gonna Make It” is a psychedelic-blues throwback that recalls 13th Floor Elevators, but the album loses steam when it switches styles on the next track. Some songs are almost too easily pegged for their influences, such as “Everflowing Tune,” which plays like a modern interpretation of the Beatles’ “Love to You.” Most of the songs are decent attempts at resurfacing the ’60s, but they seem to scratch only the surface of what Thee Shams seem to be going for. The album’s highest moments are the blues-rich “Love Grows & Grows,” and “Survive,” whose simple piano set-up and nasal vocal whine creates an original, warm sound that’s free of inescapable influences. But that only reinforces the belief that Thee Shams are far better at using their influences to create original songs than at imitating the songs of music’s most influential decade.
Shake It Web site: http://www.shakeitrecords.com
Thee Shams Web site (with streaming audio): http://www.theeshams.com/