On their new EP, 6, Indianapolis’ The Shelby County Sinners have thrown down their best recorded effort yet; a taste of Hoosier rock filtered through key 60’s and 70’s folk-rock influences. It is rock and roll hillbilly country music, with lyrics that raise the stakes for the band. Is this their peak, or is there more (and better) to come?
Eric Grimmett’s guitar jump out, song after song. Singer Shelby Kelley finds the pocket for his nimble, twangy voice, and has written a batch of songs that sound good with the band’s minimalist approach. Mo Foster powers the songs with a forceful-yet-economic stand-up bass groove.
No song is very long, trading length for impact, paying homage to influences without losing creative spark.
“21st Century Bail Out Blues” opens the EP with Kelley spitting out Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisted-style lyrics. A righteous electric guitar appears early, with barbed wire lines and a solo proves to be a harbinger of the sound and strength it will bring to the album. The small but cracking band delivers – think Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three in 2012.
The EP, smartly recorded (live, according to Kelley) at Pop Machine with Eric Klee Johnson, is punchy and full. It plays without too many tricks (other than some megaphone vocal effects) and nicely straddles a line between backwoods party and studio gem.
The two standout cuts on the album show up near the back of the set. “Down the Road” splashes Springsteen-esque harmonica while a pretty and gutsy Kelley vocal pushes the tune into anthemic territory. Once of the most accessible cuts on the record, it’s instantly likable and lovingly played throughout, all the way to a sweetly abrupt ending.
“Hey Old Man” feels like a old Byrds tune, recreated by a country rock band from Indiana, and radio ready for a WTTS spin. A great surprise appears when the band rips into the opening lines of Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light”, near the end, perfectly placed and terrifically poignant.
“East Side” continues a rockabilly slant, with a hint of Todd Snider.
“Wuntz” (as in “wuntz I loved you) is classic corn country (written by Foster) with a smiling, tongue-sorta-in-cheek gang-sing about lost love set to a southern-drawling vocal. A line about getting out of prison appears at one point, proving that the circle remains unbroken when it comes to sturdy country music cliches.
“Say Baby” bookends the record with another Dylan-style blues number. The band works a dirty guitar to great effect, with shouts of “blows your mind baby” neatly wrapping up a cohesive little album of Hoosier rock and twang.
Kelley emailed me and said they were working on a full-length release for 2013. If they build on what is contained in 6, the rockabilly bar band may find themselves with a bunch more of critics as fans, and music fans as friends.