Chris Vachon’s side project Lil’ Shaky And The Tremors have released a dynamite CD titled Aftershock. It’s an appropriate title because once a listener gets to the end of the album, he’s likely to be in awe of the way the band handles classic blues, soul, and R&B material. Vachon, bassist-vocalist Ed Wright, drummer Larr Anderson, and keyboardist Jeff Ceasrine each have tremendous credentials and this super group knows how to combine their talents in a fine interplay to milk the creative juices of each. There’s also 14 guest musicians who help the quartet keep this recording in the big league of musical endeavors.
Opening track “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled And Crazy” gets a solid, soulful vocal treatment from soul man belter Ed Wright. Wright’s emotive croon flows over this ebullient R&B number with an easygoing grace and considerate phrasing. Just below that vocal line, guitarist Vachon, of Roomful Of Blues fame, pays out a playful, brittle lead phrase that’s infused with rhythmic twists and turns while making a nice second “voice” within this motion filled piece. If all that isn’t enough, a section of players called The Naked Horns fill the soundscape with their bursting flavors.
“You’re The Kind Of Trouble” pulls the listener right in with its soulful motions and gospel tinged backing vocals. Keyboardist Jeff Ceasrine layers it all with a fun, lofty, traveling organ line that keeps the song moving while laying the soulful gravy over the groove. Larr Anderson injects enough fills to add to the feel that the song is taking us somewhere while Wright works his vocal magic, mixing dynamics with the backing vocals to keep it layered, textured, and full of lift. Guest singer Brenda Bennett shares lead vocal duties here and gives it all another dimension of raspy, sultry expression.
Lil’ Shaky and his Tremors get into funky blues groove on “Why Are People Like That.” Wright sprawls out a hip, swaggering vocal as Vachon picks some tasteful, crunchy note and chords. The rhythm section keep it moving, kicking, pumping out a groove that could inspire some fancy footwork on the dance floor. Guest harmonica player, Mike Rand, blows a flinty, catchy, intriguing melodic line, his phrase hop scotching over the irresistible groove, simultaneously adding another dimension to the rhythmic click of this piece.
The boys take it to the listener’s heart with Bill Wither’s personal reflective number “Grandma’s Hand.” This a tune about that universally and unconditionally loved presence, grandma, and it can only work if each band member knows how to deliver the goods. This outfit has about 150 years of musical experience between them so they can do this. Wright goes deep inside himself, both personally and musically, and brings up something beautifully gospel and wonderfully expressive. The Gospel Love Tones keep it humming with true soul and depth and they contrast marvelously with Vachon’s tender, sweet guitar line, a series of brittle, sensitive notes that show he was feeling it while recording this song.
One of the coolest blues songs ever, Willie Dixon’s “I Love The Life I Live” gets a brisk, rocking treatment on this disc. Wright’s vocal is a simmering growl, making it feel deep and aggressive. The other players go into overdrive with their high octane delivery. Mike Rand is back on harmonica, and it’s quite the lean, mean line he’s blowing out, fast enough to get a speeding ticket. Vachon’s feisty guitar is on fire, giving off sparks with each note and chords he whips out with passing line swiftness.
Recorded by artists like Anne Peebles, Paul Young, Clarence Carter, and Fogat, “Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love” brings the band back into catchy R&B territory. Wright layers it with his soulful vocal and punches it up with some bulbous bass guitar work. His voice rises up into that heavenly level with emotive sustains in between what is already a very soulful expression. The backing vocalists DD Bastos and Brenda Bennett coo and hum around him in that spiritually feeling gospel way, bringing things up a few notches on multiple levels. Vachon’s guitar sprinkles some more mournful and tender feeling over this winsome classic dance floor oldie. Oh, did I mention that the horns and keyboards here in this rendition are classy as hell?
The boys get snappy on “I Only Have Love,” a peppy, upbeat, R&B favorite. Vachon’s riffy guitar packs plenty of rhythmic click into this piece. Anderson, too, smacks it along with lots of fills. The contrast between Wright’s loose, rolling vocal sprawl and the tightness of the groove is brilliant. It makes the ear appreciate the fullness of feeling in the voice as well as the solid ensemble work of the instrumentalists.
The soul classic “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me).” popularized by Bobby Blue Band, gets another fine soul treatment here. Wright coos right in with mournful tenderness and the players ease into a perfect groove under a forlorn guitar melody and horn line. This is Wright’s most expressive vocal work on this album, and that is saying a lot as this is collection of outstanding work, Without ever overplaying the emotive vibe, Wright takes the listener into the heart of this classic with his refined, smooth as Jack croon. Vachon chimes in with some elegant guitar phrasing, making each of his notes say something in service to this song.
Bobby Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” finds the boys, with a funky groove and a riffy guitar, getting into a soulful vocal ballad mode. Its down tempo approach allows Wright the breathing room to let him put every little bit of his soulful timbre and cool approach into this. His vocal is steeped in the groove, and his rich voice pours over the rhythm with assured grace. Traveling next to his vocal is Mike Antunes’ rich and brilliantly played tenor sax melody.
The boys close out with the Bobby and Shirley Womack classic “It’s All Over Now.” Popularized by The Rolling Stones who had a number one hit with it, Lil’ Shaky And The Tremors load it up it with fun, perky blues and rock and roll idioms. Vachon presses out a lean, sharp guitar phrase while the rhythm section bumps it up even further with a series of drum fills and low end runs that keep it palpable and moving.
Lil’ Shaky And The Tremors are off to a good start with this Aftershock debut. If the four can find time outside of their “day jobs” to tour on this material and compose new material, they could easily have a hugely successful band.