Randall Shreve and the SideShow Release New Album
By Tim Newman
The Jester, a new album from Randall Shreve & the SideShow, was recorded, mixed, and mastered at Shreve’s own Insomniac Studios over a quick eight weeks with the help of partner Adam Putman. This is the Side Show’s first project with singer-songwriter-guitarist Randall Shreve. The record has been “three years in the working,” says Shreve.
The thirteen tracks span little more than an hour and stylistically stretch over an array of influences. “Pale Blue” is a nineties ballad, slightly reminiscent of Weezer’s green album. Then there’s the accurately named “Tango”, that lays down a rhythmic variation of Tango bordering on Zouk that flaunts drummer Zach Reeves’ mad skills. “Pier 14” is a bass-driven, accordion-infused song with a creeping tempo and whispering vocals reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s “The Dope Show.” This album pulls its influences from practically all musical corners.
A black and white video was filmed by Matt Wolfe for “The Ghost,” the first single from the album, which premiered at Rouge on Sunday. The video features Shreve and the band in vaudeville-inspired scenes. Twirling a pair of scissors while a marionette dances in the foreground, Shreve’s on-screen performance breaths life into the dark character of the album. The song is a catchy pop-carnie tune filled with Shreve’s signature falsetto and sprinkled with guitarist Danny Klein’s harmonizing riffage.
Shreve’s vocals combine the power of Steven Tyler (Listen for this at the end of the album opener “Alcohol”) with the sweetness of Roy Orbison (In the last track of the album, “Your Mother’s Fault”). The first four tracks of the album progress in the traditional chord structures of the rag tune with little variance from a funhouse tempo. Shreve breaks from the formula, but not necessarily from his comfort zone, during the fifth track when he takes the tempo down a notch in a bittersweet love song that feature Patricks Bellah on cello and a softer supporting melody in the background vocals.
For the first half of the album, the piano is buried in the overall mix of the album, but you sure get a smack in the face with Timothy Grace’s energy-fueled key slammin’ in the opening bars of “Kiss My Ass.” Grace also wrote the accompanying arrangements for the horns, winds and strings featured throughout the record. Horn trills peak out from sound layers and add depth to the overall burlesque feel of the record, but are, unfortunately, often lost in the mix as well. In addition to his complex, yet subtle and often quiet guitar licks, Klein contributes the accordion and banjo on select tracks.
The 1-5 bass line is a fundamental part of the album, origins of which stem from polka and ragtime jazz – influences that lend themselves not only to the band’s music but also to its image. Bassist Geoff Baker delivers a smooth performance, consistently accentuating the vaudevillian theme of the music. Modernized with a distorted guitar and a masterful drum performance, the album avoids settling into an homage to ragtime, instead transforming into a unique sound. The precise drumming of Reeves holds together the in-your-face rock attitude of The Jester with tremendous accuracy.
Compared to the snippets I’ve heard of Shreve’s previous two solo albums, The Jester is much more grandiose and over-the-top, but in a good way. It is neither a reproduction of nor a departure from the prior albums, but is a more evolved or fuller sound. The album feels like a condensed version of the monstrous live performance that Randall Shreve & the Side Show is certain to put on, and fans can look forward to the first album release party on October 22 at George’s Majestic Lounge. Joining them on stage will be some of the local session musicians that appear on the album: Josh Reed, Dave Embree, Matt McCool, and Phil “The Bone” Eagle.
The Jester offers a carnival medicine show of modern and traditional pop, but the studio versions of the tracks do not do justice to the great musicianship of its performers. The band has an excellent stage presence and live sound, but the songs do not translate that energy and talent to their studio versions, seeming instead safe and at times, bordering on formulaic.
Based on the energetic concord of the music on this album, I anticipate the band will continue putting on tight, loud, and danceable shows. The Jester will be available on October 18 on iTunes and October 22 at local retailers. Check the website, www.randallshreve.com, for pre-orders and upcoming shows, including the five album release parties slated for the end of October and the beginning of November in Arkansas and Missouri.