Starting out with a honky-tonk meets the Talking Heads-type of sound, Shortstack push alt-country to the side for a more old-school style of popular country. The wide-open guitars of “Jealous Man” break out of the compressed mastering that the disc finds itself. The first exciting happening in the CD occurs during the walking bass line of the second track, “Plenty Time For Sleepin’”. Comparable to the highest plateaus of Uncle Tupelo, Shortstack provides a more cohesive sound than Tupelo, as well as incorporating more of America’s historical lineage of music, whether it be the bluegrass bass or the doubled-up delivery on the vocals. Using a snowball affect on their self-titled disc, each disc has Shortstack introducing a new facet of their musical personality as well as incorporating previous incorporation. Thus, “Offer Still Stands” is a more complex song than “Jealous Man”, even though both tracks are created with the same level of quality in mind.
The first minor weakness that becomes noticeable on this self-titled CD is the instrumental nature of “Make It A Good One”, where the instrumentation on the track is not intense nor compelling enough to drive listeners through the entire 2:30 of the track. Continuing the weak output of Shortstack, albeit to not as much of a degree as “Make It A Good One”, is the very Neil Young-influenced “Mexico To Texas”. Again adopting a Spartan outlook for adorning this track, Shortstack just needs to add more substance to the average track to complete the lush overall sound that is needed for this style of music. What had such promise during the first few tracks hits a wall half-way through, and in following tracks (Sometimes Things Happen), something new (like a Brian Setzer-esque rockabilly guitar) is added that has no purpose on the disc besides to clutter up what was previously balanced, while still ignoring the numerous bare patches on the disc.
The instrumental interludes may have seemed quaint and well-meaning to the band at the time of recording, but to the average listener, they represent the tedium engendered by the lack of vocals. That’s right, Adrian, Scott, and Mike’s voices are undoubtedly one of the strongest reasons to even pick up this CD. When a track is devoid of their vocalizing, the tracks are worse than mediocre – they are incomplete. With the interludes being as numerous as they are on this CD, that’s a large chunk of music that holds little for a listener. A great effort, better than Banhart, but still has miles to go before Shortstack can sleep.
Top Tracks: Trouble in Mind, Plenty Time For Sleepin’
Shortstack – S/T / 2003 Planaria / 12 Tracks / http://www.fattruckersunion.com/shortstack / http://www.planariainc.com / Reviewed 27 December 2004