march 2011


Big Shanty
King Mojo Records

big shanty“Got my own way/and it works just fine.” So growls Big Shanty amid the greasy funk blues of “Stop Pushing Me,” second cut on the first of this two-disc, 19-song overview of his impressive musical endeavors. Well, it has indeed worked out just fine for the big man since he stormed into the blues world with 2004’s World of Trouble and has continued marching on like Sherman to the sea, adopting a strictly scorched earth policy as he goes. A triple-threat writer/singer/slide guitarist, Shanty attacks most of his songs with impunity and a foul disposition, because this is serious business indeed. You can tell that much from the howling slide sorties and in-your-face vocal report to a wayward woman marking his punishing, Hendrix-like “They Say It’s Raining” (disc one). He may turn down the heat a bit on something such as “Got a Hold On Me,” in which both his dark, ominous voice and spacey guitar evoke the specter of the Doors at their finest; and on “World of Trouble,” he goes deep into the heart of a broken-hearted melody of a blues ballad, his voice full of the pain of betrayal, his stinging guitar adding a second, aggrieved voice to his own. He prefers, however, to get off simmer quickly and unequivocally. Disc one shows what he has done with mostly a basic band behind him—the occasional horn section or synth will show up—and thus showcases the variety of blues and blues-inflected styles over which he exercises complete dominion. A special treat in this set is the fevered, pumping, ‘50s-style musical orgy he engages in on a saucy, braggadocio-filled come-on, “Right Combination,” a crispy live track that gets some added oomph courtesy Phil Davis’s rollicking keyboards, Rick Phillips’s rumbling bass sax and a tart, electrifying Eddie Jett guitar solo complementing Big Shanty’s feisty vocal.

Big Shanty’s anti-war screed, ‘Killing Fields,’ featured on Collection, with Liz Melendez on solo guitar.

Disc two’s ten cuts feature Big Shanty’s combo joined by an array of special guests, including Wet Willie bassist Jack Hall (who enters the fray on the intense, unsparing title track from 2007’s Ride With the Wind, a relentless, multi-textured assault driven in part by Big Shanty’s rarely heard fingerpicked acoustic blues guitar, with Eddie Jett taking the electric guitar lead for a couple of searing solos en route); Hydra guitarist Spencer Kirkpatrick on a couple of cuts (including the sputtering, funkified southern soul delight, “Kiss the Eight Ball,” and the hard charging, party-hearty invite to sensual delights, “Love Train,” on which Kirkpatrick steps up for an energized, soaring solo about halfway through); the estimable and indefatigable Col. Bruce Hampton, adding out-there electric steel atmospherics to the grinding “Living On the Edge of Time”; and, on seven of the 10 cuts, Liz Melendez, doing honors both as guitarist and soul shouter vocalist—her heavy metal thunder on “Uncle Sam Go To Rehab” is all wondrous, brutal beauty defining a topical screed of Big Shanty’s directed at political corruption and government waste (this disc opens with another topical entry, the anti-war screed, “Killing Fields,” an occasion for Melendez to announce herself with wailing, electric protests), and on the aforementioned “Kiss the Eight Ball,” her multitracked backing chorus brings a Bonnie Bramlett soul strut to the proceedings.

The simple title of this release is telling: “greatest hits” has no relevance in Big Shanty’s world; “His Best” would be only partly correct, since more than two discs would be needed to support such a title. No, Collection is good. It’s not limiting, it’s not hyperbolic, it’s even understated. The better to lay you flat out when you get steamrolled by the contents herein. Watch out—there’s more to come. Big Shanty’s at large.—David McGee

Big Shanty’s Collection is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024