Carnes & Shew | Album Review

Carnes & Shew


CD: 7 Songs, 27 Minutes

Styles: Harmonica Blues, Ensemble Blues, All Original Songs, Debut Album

What do an ancient oil lamp, a glass bottle, and a tappable top hat have in common? On the surface, they’re plain, unassuming objects, but they have magic inside. The self-titled debut CD from Bloomington, Indiana’s Carnes & Shew has nothing but the title printed on the disc itself. However, once you slide it into your stereo, vibrant colors will pour out of your speakers faster than you can say “howlin’ hot harmonica.” This trio is the real deal, the Three Amigos. the Three Musketeers of ensemble blues. Starring Mark Carnes on guitar, harmonica and pitch-perfect singing, along with percussionist Dane Clark and Jeff Shew on upright bass and background vox, the band presents seven original songs – all of which are lucky. They’re pure magic, embodying the musical trifecta of great lyrics, instrumentation and vocal prowess. The only bad news is that the album runs less than half an hour. A few more numbers, or even several more, would turn this from a quick bite into a musical meal to savor.

Carnes & Shew formed in 2018 as an acoustic duo, featuring a unique instrumentation composed of upright bass, harmonica, guitar and shared vocal duties. As songwriters, they use the blues tradition of storytelling, sharing real-life events with mostly a dark, minor-key tone. Mark Carnes has been performing since the 1970s and has toured the country with many notable acts. Jeff Shew started playing blues music in the Chicagoland area and has been performing and writing for over twenty-five years. This album was recorded with Dane Clark and released in November 2019. It’s definitely geared for national, international, and online airplay. Look out, Sirius XM!

“Raised in Chicago” starts things off, an electric jolt combining upright bass, acoustic guitar and harp in equal voltage. It sounds like it should be featured in a remake of The Sting. The lyrics even say, “I’ve been running my mouth so much, I can’t believe I ain’t been shot!” Next is an autobiographical tale of “Dwight Carnes,” Mark Carnes’ late, beloved brother, who would have been alive today had he received a liver transplant. Due to uncured Hepatitis C, however, as well as cancer, Dwight passed away. After such a foray into one family’s personal hell, are you in a dancing mood? Never fear: “One Night in Louisville,” an up-tempo jump blues number, will get you hopping like the Easter bunny. If you don’t know how to pronounce the city in question, listen closely to the band’s inflection. Following that is “Passed Out Again,” a Pink Panther-esque anthem featuring jazzy high-hat drums and verses about getting dead drunk. “Kat Kickin’ Riding Boots” is characterized as a biker anthem, but even if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle in your life, you can imagine the song’s subject: a long-legged lady in her favorite footwear. “Pieces” and “The Darkest Hour” close things out with aplomb: the first a bouncy breakup ballad, the second a Gospel-tinged message of hope. Every one of these is classic and classy.

Carnes & Shew are the Penn & Teller of ensemble blues: their magic is second to none!

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