According to the hard-bitten world view of Nate Farrar's Shell Shocked
, the only certainty in life is drinking; to be more precise, the only certainty is heavy
drinking, the kind that finds you waking up on a stranger's floor and staggering woozily out the door. "If money isn't made for drinkin'," Farrar sings, "what the hell is it for?" His barstool-philosopher fatalism is so finely honed that listeners might be tempted to join him at the bar for a whiskey or three. Luckily, Farrar has married his intoxicated words to intoxicating music.
The thirteen engaging compositions on Shell Shocked are rooted firmly in Mississippi Delta Blues, which functions as a framework for Farrar's existential musings. His brooding lyrics are at turns surreal and all-too-real; he seems to always be leaving some seedy location and heading somewhere equally hopeless, all the while nursing a perpetual bender. When he requests a "one-way ticket into hell" in "Scarsdale," it appears those other places have just been pit stops on the way to his inevitable destination.
Despite Farrar's dissolute sensibility, an undercurrent of droll humor runs throughout, coming to the surface on the rib-tickling "Not a Fool in Love":
Do you have insurance
A healthy relationship with your mother
Do you have any VDs
Or a Nietzschesque jealous brother?
The tunes on Shell Shocked range in mood from forlorn to footstomping. Farrar delivers his vocals with conviction and gutsy authenticity, and he is bolstered by a band of talented Philadelphia-based jazz musicians: Tom Spiker contributes scorching electric guitar solos, embellishing several tracks with some fine pedal steel work; Evan Lipson provides a solid foundation on bass; and drummer Matt Scarano is right on the money, expertly evoking rainfall on "As the Rain Comes Down." The confident production by Stephen Rak portends an auspicious future for the fledgling BwO imprint; everything from the stripped-down studio sound to the DIY cover art reflects an already distinct aesthetic, stark though it may be.
Nate Farrar's debut recording is an uncanny take on the blues that repays replays, but his potential is surely too vast to be confined to one style. Hopefully Shell Shocked is only the first of many projects in a long and adventurous career.
Personnel: Nate Farrar: guitar, vocals; Evan Lipson: upright bass; Matt Scarano: drums; Tom Spiker: mixing board, electric guitar, pedal steel.