There was a time about a decade or so ago when radio (and the public) seemed ready to embrace the roots rock being performed by Whiskeytown, Old ’97’s, The Jayhawks and other bands of that ilk. Like all music that becomes accepted by the masses, only a watered-down version would have ever become really popular but even a dumbed down version of some great alt.country-style roots rock would have been preferable to a lot of the dance pop and kiddie-rock pabulum which became big instead. N’Stink anyone? So, as the sweet and tangy roots rock flavor began to permeate the music of the day, these more palatable, radio-friendly roots rock artists and bands started lining up: The Wallflowers, Freedy Johnston, and Counting Crows (among others). Though, as I said, a more listener-friendly version of roots rock, there were plenty of great songs to be had by these artists and an additional smattering of like-minded folks. Unfortunately, the alt.country/roots rock movement never really took hold and as fast as the bands were signed, they were dropped just that quickly. Only the Counting Crows remain out of that group of artists, and they’ve morphed their sound to such a degree as to not really resemble what they used to be anyway.
And so the fickle music business goes, to paraphrase the marvelous Nick Lowe. But something tells me Shane Lamb was listening and continued to listen to all of those bands before they were famous, during their fame, and probably continues to listen to them and their musical brethren still. I say such wild things because after listening to Lamb’s debut album, you get the feeling he has been steeped in the roots rock sound for a long time. Many artists can mimic, and even more can chase a fad. Truth be told, a lot of alt.country players paid their sues in punk and metal bands when those fads were big, switched to alt.country to try to ride that wave and split the genre as soon as they realized it wasn’t going to lead to millions of dollars and tons of groupies. I could name these musical chameleons, but this is Lamb’s time to shine – and shine he does. As a vocalist, Lamb has a reedy tenor ala Johnston which serves his homespun tales well, even the rockers. After all, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Neil Young all have similar vocal sounds and I reckon those boys have made a mark or two on the music business. Songwriting wise, Lamb is a blend between Petty and Dylan – not too sparse, not too wordy but able to make his points amid very heartfelt statements and slice-of-life lyrics bolstered melodies that stick to your ears like mom’s ribs stick to your tummy. Lamb has also been smart enough to gather a band full of vets that are able to bring his songs to life in a way that sounds as classic as a mid-’80’s Petty song yet new at the same time. In other words, pretty good stuff with a radio-friendly sound. Now if only radio was actually friendly these days…..
The album starts out of the gate with a mid-tempo rocker entitled “Free.” It’s a good beginning for the album as the song has a decent hook and immediately reminds one of a Johnston cut due to Lamb’s tenor vocals and way with a phrase. A killer guitar solo by studio vet Pat Buchanan makes the song complete. Great cut and something which should be all over radio as it sits comfortably between Johnston and The Wallflowers in mood. The coda also has some wonderful guitar playing, presumably also by Buchanan. The next song is “I Would” and it is a slower, more contemplative song featuring great slide guitar runs by Buchanan and just the right amount of organ by Tuttle. The title cut is next and is an even slower song – two more like this and the whole album might just stop. Yes, I am being facetious but I wouldn’t mind hearing a little more rock from Lamb. The song eventually revs up to a gentle chug but I guess as it’s about the break-up of a long relationship, the song should be slow and moody. The fourth song, “Someday”, seems to be the rocker for which I have been patiently waiting. The controlled frenzy of Lamb and his backing band sounds somewhat like a floorboarded Ferrari: dangerous and wild yet smooth and effortless. Great song with some excellent guitar work by Buchanan that shows he can fire up the heebie-jeebies when he wants. “To Get You Through” is the next cut and it’s a gripping mid-tempo rocker with a lot of grit and a great hook. Again, sounds like a mix between Freedy Johnston and The Wallflowers with reedy vocals and plenty of great guitar work going on and perfectly played organ work. Excellent roots rocker. The sixth song “On My Mind” is a slow dreamy ballad, one that country radio or Triple-A should eat up. Again Lamb’s vocals sound a lot like Johnston’s work but that’s certainly no quibble as I am a huge fan of Johnston and now, of Lamb’s. Deftly finger-picked guitar opens up the seventh song, A While, setting the mood for a contemplative ballad highlighted as usual by Lamb’s great plaintive voice. Lyrics are interesting and have a slice-of-life quality about them which usually denotes a talented songwriter. While Lamb isn’t at the status of “great” yet, he has a easy-going soulful style that will no doubt grow as he ages and will no doubt lead to more great songs on future releases. The next song “Dreams” is a mid-tempo rocker, skillfully opened with some great B-3 organ riffs played by Tuttle and then progressing to a great anthemic chorus and a great gripping guitar solo! Great rootsy rock and roll done very, very well! This could have been a hit in the ’80’s but does not sound dated, just radio-ready for a time which has unfortunately passed. Don’t see this getting much airplay today on the airwaves by what sadly represents radio today, though it should be played once an hour in my opinion. Steel guitar Santo-and-Johnny-isms open the next song, “Take Away”. Another slow ballad, a few in a row now as I am yearning for a flat out rocker, but these are still great songs just wondering if the sequencing couldn’t have been done better. Ahhhhh, here it is: “The Change In Me” which rocks like hell from the jump! A horn section adds some soul/church flavor to the mix and makes the song a flat-out party and shows another side to Lamb’s vocals. Fantastic! Close to three-minutes of bliss. The next song “Dream Tonight” goes back to the ballads, with Lamb’s whispered vocals adding a somber mopod to the track. Hey, sounds better than anything that hack John Mayer has come up with without being as icky as Your Body Is A Wonderland-style dreck. The final song “Until You” closes the album on a low-key note, with acoustic-guitar playing and vocals from Lamb until band joins in gradually to build up track into a great climax.
To me, the most surprising aspect of this entire album is the decision to call the album Disengage. For me, Lamb’s music is so engaging, there is no way I would want to separate myself from it. And while Lamb still has a ways to go in the songwriting department before he can equal his influences, I am able to say Lamb has the skills needed to eventually match his heroes. The eye for minuscule detail is there, the ability to craft a clever line, the melodic sense and the ability to make each word meaningful are all evident in Lamb’s music and bode well for his success in the music business. Hopefully Lamb will be able to parlay these gifts and use them to take advantage of each opportunity which comes his way. Though the music business is unfortunately still more about being in the right place at the right time than having actual talent, Lamb has the skills needed to be able maximize whatever good fortune comes his way.