With a new Rick Shea album you always know you're in for some great music. Shea has a distinctive lived-in voice that immediately draws you with its sense of a man who has experience of life as it is lived from the bottom up. He is also a storyteller who takes you on a ride on the Mexicali Train on to stay at the Mariachi Hotel. He tells us about Gregory Ray DeFord and John Shea From Kenmare in his tales of times past. Recorded by Shea and Paul Du Gré at studios in California this is music that comes from a long tradition of roots music from that State. One maybe best know for such country/rock icons as Gram Parsons, but has a history that long predates, and indeed follows, Parsons involvement with his Cosmic American Music.
The band is a tight unit that allows the rhythm section to sit back and add a relaxed groove behind a predominantly acoustic lead and rhythm guitar setting. But as the occasion demands he brings his undoubted skill on electric and pedal steel to the fore. He also plays dobro and mandolin to add additional colour to the sound. He is joined by West Coast veterans Don Heffington on drums and Skip Edwards on accordion alongside a variety of companions on bass, keyboards and fiddle. In Nicole Gordon he has a excellent harmony vocalist especially on the tale of a man forced into outlaw territory by adverses circumstances Gregory Ray DeFord as well as on the funky Shake It Little Sugaree and other tracks. These two song alone would highlight the diverse nature of Shea's writing.
Then there's a version of Hank Williams Snr's Honky Tonk Blues - a stripped down and bluesy take on the song and one of the better version of the song apart from the original. Another cover is the live acoustic duet with Mary McCaslin on Roy Acuff's Streamline Cannonball. This closes the album with another song about a train, fittingly enough, as the aforementioned Mexicali Train opened the album. There is no doubting the subtle skill and sense of history that Rick Shea brings to his music. He understand the roots and branches of the music that has always found ways to grow in the environs of California and, indeed, still thrives there.
If you're not familiar with the music of Rick Shea then Sweet Bernardine is a good place to start and you can then discover his extensive back catalogue of finely honed music. Rick Shea has played with Dave Alvin and others and has also served as producer for an number of artists and thus understands what it takes to make good, lasting music. Exactly what he is doing here.