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RICK SHEA —SWEET BERNARDINE (Tres Pescadores Records)


Best know to many for his part in Dave Alvin’s band, The Guilty Men alongside others he has played with, but aside from this Californian Rick Shea is a superb storyteller/recording artists in his own right and the voice to go with it.


Comparisons to Tom Russell come to mind on occasions. Such his astute and imagine evoking lyrics, coerced by measured playing of guitar, fiddle, mandolin  and percussion. Plus, there is the small matter of some beautiful accompanying female harmony vocals. All but two songs are his-own, work. The exceptions are well chosen.

First in line you have his workmanlike bluesy leaning version of Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” followed by album closer, Roy Acuff’s “Streamline Cannonball”. On which he has a surprise guest, the amazing Mary McCaslin. Singer-songwriter McCaslin’s albums of the 1970s and 1980s made a huge impression on me. Her way with a western song better than most anyone who has ever lived! Plus there is the small matter of her innovative workings of music of Lennon and McCarney and The Who (be sure to check out her work on Rounder records). Back to “Streamline Cannonball”, it works perfectly, and McCaslin sounds exactly like she did then! Great. Apologies to Shea for my diversion as I praise Mary, her worth just needed recognising.


Shea’s relaxed vocal style coupled with strains of others works superbly. On “Gregory Ray DeFord” there can be heard traces of David Allan Coe as the wistful sound of Dobro, guitar and more female vocals ease through the proceedings. While the late John Stewart comes to mind on the stout, stately presented “Sweet Bernardine”. It is of no coincidence that all I compare and feel his music reminds me are stylists and strong individuals, musically and people who have made their mark.  


Equally impressive tales covering some Irish roots as he gives mention to Kerry, Ireland on “John Shea From Kenmare” and the two songs that set the record in motion “Mexicali Train” and “Mariachi Hotel” (a bright ‘n breezy piece which takes the listener on a trip along the Mexican border; as his journey takes him along streets decorated with vendors, sweet accordion and walking through streets where chickens, dogs and ghosts are welcomed on board amidst some tasty acoustic guitar (flat-picking?). If you are in need of a spiritual journey through America's west and beyond go check out Mr Shea's excellent work.  

                                                Maurice Hope


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May 2018

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