Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: The Shifters - In It! and an interview with Keith Duncan

...I am officially addicted.

It happens on occasion. I get myself an album that I can't get out of my speakers, my headphones, or my head in general. It's been a while. Then I was sent a copy of The Shifters new album, In It! And it happened again. My addiction kicked in full force, and I can't stop listening.

Or dancing.

A couple months back, I did an interview with Steve Jackson of the Pietasters, and he mentioned the music scene in the Washington DC area. He mentioned The Shifters specifically. Always willing to take the word of a my blog subjects and an admired musician, I began my quest to get more familiar with these guys. I found some YouTube videos and while I was highly impressed with how tight this band is live, it was not until I got this album that I realized just exactly what level of amazing I was dealing with here.

To call myself a music snob is probably an understatement, and I am not easily impressed by anyone for any reason. Studio album or live performance. But The Shifters figured it out. Whatever that magic formula is that puts music in my head and keeps it happily lodged there, they have it. I am wondering where the heck I have been hiding that I have not been all over these gentlemen.

The Shifters formed in 2010 in Washington DC. "It was more of a drunken garage project. I don't think anyone really took it too seriously", says Shifters trombonist Keith Duncan. "However, there were a few higher caliber players in the band which sort of propelled us forward. Manolo (Los Granadians) is definitely a consummate reggae and rocksteady writer. We also had Jorge from The Ambitions on bass, and Taylor has been a touring musician for many years in various rock bands. I've always been a fan of less-than-modern Jamaican music".

As is often the case after a sound is found, nurtured, and perfected, there were various changes to the band itself. This eventually led to the lineup as it is today...which is, to say the least, an amazing match-up of talented musicians and performers. All you have to do is give their most recent album one spin, and that is obvious. Keith Duncan was nice enough to sit down with me and tell me a bit about the process of making the new album:

Keith: "Last year, I flew out Persephone from Ocean 11 to do a mini tour. The reception was overwhelming from all ten people who saw it, and we realized we needed to move ahead legitimately with a recording of some sort. We practiced our asses off for that Queen P tour, and we were really sounding tight. It was fairly obvious we needed to record, but I think we had a whopping thousand dollars in our band fund which would barely cover the recording studio."

"Taylor (trumpet player...side note: he wrote a song for Weezer) and I started talking about Kickstarter. My buddy in LA, Jason Lawless, started a record label through crowd funding and I though we could emulate that for our record."

"We booked the studio time, and we set up a Kickstarter page. I crunched the numbers, based on wanting to press a 10inch, and I came up with a conservative $2,500.

Check out the Kickstarter page here...

"We blew that number out of the water with a little advertising, and we were really happy with the recorded results. So we took the extra money and pressed a special run of blue vinyl for Kickstarter patrons. More importantly, we had enough money to have Brian Dixon (from the Aggrolites) do us a favor of mixing our record, which really sent our sound over the top."

While the band formed in DC, they hail from all over the country, and the world. Keith is from San Diego. Taylor is from Oregon. Matt is from Louisiana. Manolo is from Spain. Gerry is from Africa. Scotty is from New Jersey. The remaining boys (Budman, Harris, and Julian) are the only locals, by means of Maryland. Their diversity in geographic origin is hardly the only thing that sets them apart from other bands in this scene. Their sound is smooth. Groove-laden bass lines and keys layered between clean brass sounds and soulful vocals. It's addicting, but don't take my word for it. You need this album.

From beginning to end, it's not only melodic and dance-able, but I have found myself singing along with it since the second time I listened to it all the way through. My favorite track changes daily. Hourly maybe. Lately, "It's Been Too Long" has been the most frequently played, followed by "Moving On". Both have not only a wonderful rocksteady groove, but the vocals are amazing. Beautifully sung lyrics and melody melded in a wonderful balance. The brass is clean, perfectly placed, and well mixed. It's a theme throughout the album in it's entirety. It's really, really well done...beginning to end. If you can listen to one track on In It! and not find yourself dancing just a little bit...quite frankly, I don't know what to do with you.

"Waiting For A Sign" is also on constant repeat lately. Great lyrics, and each piece...each instrument, each amazing musician...put together perfectly. I am writing this, right now, with my headphones on and this song blasting. I am sitting, and can't help but be moving. I wish I was hearing it live. How far is DC from NJ?

The album, all the way through, is a groove you can feel, straight through to that inner most spot in your soul that makes you close your eyes and dance. And then start asking yourself and anyone else within ear shot..."When the %#$ are these guys going to play the NYC area?!" Well, at least I did. No one answered me yet...but trust me, I am working on that...

To say they are tight as a band is an understatement. I found a video of a live performance of "It's Been Too Long" from sometime last year. If I was not completely in love with this song before, I am now. Completely sold. Is it possible to have a crush on a song? Because I do.

What's a girl to do?

Beg and plead for The Shifters to make a pilgrimage from their home base in DC and come play in North Jersey, of course. I will settle for New York City...parking and tolls are more than worth the price of seeing these gentlemen do their thing live. There is something about hearing music you really love when it's being performed in front of you. The vibration. It cuts into you in the most delicious way.

I can't wait...

You can buy the Shifters album In It! at Stubborn Records by clicking HERE!

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