Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown get back to their blues/rock “roots” with their latest release “Shake The Roots”
Review by Scott Harmon
The rock and blues canon is a crowded place with a long history. The founders of guitar driven blues, Robert Johnson, Son House, Lonnie Johnson, among others, forged an artistic trail based on a simple premise; keep your chord arrangements straight forward, sing about joy and pain in a very personal way and bend some notes. Bend those notes until the listener sheds a tear. All blues since that time have pursued that ethos, that emotional connection with the listener, with varying degrees of success. Along the way Blues discovered it had a red-headed step brother known as rock ‘n roll. Blues Rock has always kept one eye on its ancestry while bending and at times breaking the rules. But the touchstone for the genre has always been the aforementioned blues masters. Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown’s new release Shake The Roots do the pioneers proud with this effort that will be released on September 9, 2022.
Tyler Bryant, who hails from Paris, Texas (Paris being the town immortalized in the 1984 Wim Wenders film “Paris, Texas”) is the group’s lyricist, guitar player and lead singer. Legend has it that Tyler sold his dirtbike his parents had given him to finance the purchase of his first guitar when he was eleven years old. Life is all about choices, isn’t it? That’s one decision no would question at this point. Along with Graham Whitford on guitar and backing vocals and Caleb Crosby on drums they become a force of nature, creating a sound that’s bigger than the sum of their parts.
We are living a world of constant change; technological and social evolution happens so fast that it can make one’s head spin. The U.S. Patent Office reports that in 1963 it granted roughly 48,000 patents whereas it granted 389,000 in 2020 alone. This constant state of flux is the unintended consequence of human ingenuity. However, trying to grapple with that constant change moves us to yearn for some constancy in our lives. Blues and Blues Rock offer one such antidote to our unsettled experience, a palliative to help us feel more grounded. The challenge with the genre is finding something new, something fresh to add to the conversation.
Tyler, Graham and Caleb borrow a little from here and a little from there and when these ingredients are added to their tight arrangements and great production value on this record you get something special. Listening to this collection of twelve songs one hears numerous influences, everyone from ZZ Top to Johnny Winter; from Aerosmith to The Black Crowes. Like Jello, there’s always room for some music that’s steeped in the artistic styles just mentioned. But music is a living art form and its various genres are like the trees in our forests where scientists have discovered they not only communicate with each other, they will also share water and nutrients with one another if necessary. Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown have done that on a number songs included here; borrowing from other genres and subgenres of rock music that are always willing to share.
For example, the opening notes of “Ghostrider” immediately reminds one of Jethro Tull’s intro to the song “Aqualung” before giving way to Caleb’s pugilistic drum fill and a descending melody line that follows the vocals. The intro to “Off The Rails” tips its hat to Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” which is more infectious than the annual flu. Finally, the guitar’s over-driven tone on the song “Shackles” is heavy, not quite Doom Metal heavy, but pretty darn heavy, and this is a welcome sonic delight. Tyler is a fine guitar player and he and Graham Whitford have a very good ear for a hook and they demonstrate that skill not just on the rocking tunes but the acoustic songs “Good Things” and “Hard Learned” as well. Taking all that into consideration, it just may be the songwriting that steals the show on this album.
Some melodies become synonymous with our cultural, like the intro to “Rhapsody In Blue”, or the melody of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or the Rolling Stone’s main riff in “Satisfaction”; those are all melodies instantaneously recognizable by nearly all people. But you don’t generally sing a melody in your car while driving to work. And so, it’s words and images created by those words that stick with people the most. And the band has a real gift for creating vivid images with clever words. Take for example the line from the song “Ain’t None Watered Down” where Tyler sings “Give me a jar of the Lightning Strike. I like my love like a barroom fight”. This literal homage to moonshine may well be a metaphor for getting more than one asks for in a personal relationship. Their songs are filled with these fantastic images rooted in a southern gothic experience. Another example are the two lines from the song “Sunday No Show” where Tyler sings “Don’t tell the preacher I’ve been sinning. I took the apple and I just bit it.” Or on the song “Hard Learned” where Tyler sings “Say a prayer for me because the devil don’t seem concerned.” Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown’s songwriting possesses a Faulkner like quality; complicated, emotional, gothic.
All in all, this is an outstanding album from the top to bottom; from beginning to end. The songs are memorable, the production top notch, the playing outstanding. And the words . . . ah yes, the words.
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown Lineup:
Tyler Bryant – guitar/vocals
Caleb Crosby – drums
Graham Whitford – guitar