Welcome back for another edition of First, Last, and Favorite; our column where we get to trace an artist’s listening life from its beginning to the present. This edition we feature picks from Lonesome Shack.
Seattle’s Lonesome Shack is the long time project of Ben Todd, currently configured as a fierce trio for their sixth LP Desert Dreams, which is out now. They make blues music with the requisite amount of grit, realness, and devotion to groove you’d want from the form. There’s a rawness to their approach the betrays some roots in punk-rock (see below) with an occasionally caustic edge to their boogies. When they jam it’s econo, always getting to the essence. Check out this stripped rendition of ‘Past The Ditch’ from the new record:
Ben was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on his life as a listener, from first cassettes through the depths of rural folk-blues. Here’s Lonesome Shacks First Last and Favorite:
Minor Threat Out Of Step
Hall and Oates Rock and Soul was the first thing I listened to when I got a walkman. I must have grabbed it from my parent’s tape collection and it certainly made an impression on me. But when I got the opportunity to buy a tape of my own from Cellophane Square in Bellingham, I chose Minor Threat Out of Step. I don’t know if it was the cover that caught my eye or if I had heard about them from Thrasher, my brother, or my friends, but the record blew me away. It was raw and powerful but also controlled and full of conviction, with so much teen attitude. I soon became straightedge for a short time and even shaved my head. I have an embarrassing memory of my parents taking me to The Keg Restaurant on my birthday, my head was shaved and I was wearing an Out of Step long sleeve shirt with the sheep on it, and when they handed me balloons and sang happy birthday I just scowled and let the balloons float up to the ceiling, what a brat. I still think it’s a great record and I revisit it now and again. Minor Threat and Rites of Spring were both inspirational for me when I was starting to play music, as well as NOMEANSNO and The Minutemen.
Steve Gunn The Unseen in Between
I’ve listened to a couple other Steve Gunn records that I liked but this one stood out. Sonically it’s easy on the ears, smooth and pleasant with beautiful guitar playing, but I like that it gives me a feeling of stepping into someone’s else’s world that’s different yet familiar. I also appreciate the fact that, like most of the music I’m drawn to, it seems to defy genre while also having a clarity of vision.
V/A Georgia Blues Today (Flyright Records, 1981)
This album is consistently at the top of my list and in twenty years of listening I have yet to grow tired of it. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired musically I put this on. It’s a collection of four unique country blues artists all field recorded between ‘76-’79 in rural Georgia by George Mitchell. William Robertson, John Lee Ziegler, Jimmy Lee Williams and James Davis. There are a couple blues/folk standards on there but even those sound other worldly. It ranges from the ethereal slide and falsetto singing of John Lee Ziegler to the rhythm driven instrumental dance music of John Davis, similar to the fife and drum bands from the Mississippi hill country. William Robertson (aka Cecil Barfield) is my favorite. His precise fingerpicking blends seamlessly with his guttural croon. His sound is primordial, I’ve never heard anything like it in all the blues I’ve listened to. Each artist sits firmly in a stylistic voice all their own. There are other collections of George Mitchell recordings that are quite extensive and amazing but this is the only one I feel like I need on hand, all the time. It’s perfectly selected. The record itself is pretty hard to find, so I hope someone out there will re-press it.