Dirty Red And The Soul Shakers – Cloudless Day
Dirty Red Records
10 songs – 39 minutes
Based out of Oklahoma City, Dirty Red and the Soul Shakers play punchy, hard-driving blues-rock with something of a classic soul vibe. Cloudless Day is the band’s debut release, although the individual band members each have lengthy and impressive résumés. They are also well-respected in Oklahoma, having represented the State at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, in January 2018 (they made it to the semi-finals).
The band comprises Eric “Dirty Red” McDaniel on vocals and harmonica, guitarist Ike Lamb, bassist John Stendel and drummer Forrest Worrell. In addition, Chris Wiser added keyboards to three tracks, Trent Bell (who also engineered and mixed the album) contributes raucous backing vocals to “The Party Don’t Start Till I Get Here” and the Dirty Red Brass Section (Matt Blagg on trumpet, Kevin Webb on trombone and Chris Hicks on saxophone) appear on a number songs.
Cloudless Day explodes out of the speakers with the heavy funk of “Hot Sauce”, driven by Lamb’s insistently choppy wah-wah guitar and some very tasty horn stabs before leaping into the brawny soul of “Creepin'”. This is robust, assured music with at least as much rock as blues or soul. Indeed, the band’s classic soul influences primarily surface on the slower tracks like “Touch Of A Woman” and the title track.
McDaniel is a fine harp player and his interaction with Lamb on tracks like the riff-driven “Sweet Potato Pie” is engaging. He keeps his solos short and effective, such as in the two solos he takes on “New Day Dawning.” He also wrote all the songs on the album, except for two tracks he co-wrote with Ron Hibbard, one track he co-wrote with Hibbard and Cliff Belcher, and a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me”. Lamb takes the lion’s share of the other solo slots, often neatly stepping away from the classic (and sometimes over-used) pentatonic scale.
Pristinely recorded at Bell Lab Studio in Norman, OK, with mastering at Treelady Studios, Cloudless Day has a muscular assertiveness and power. This works particularly well on the bar-room brawling rock of “Hard Bad Habit” and “The Party Don’t Start Till I Get Here” (both featuring fine harp solos from McDaniel). It is less successful however on the cover of “Help Me”, where Sonny Boy’s sly desperation is lost under the full-bore delivery of the band.
Indeed, this all-out approach is perhaps the Achilles’ Heel of the album, particularly in relation to McDaniel’s whiskey-soaked vocals. The truly great ragged vocalists, be they Howlin’ Wolf or Tom Waits or Johnny Tucker, also manage to convey, at the height of their fury and assertiveness, a vulnerability and sensitivity that McDaniel does not quite manage to achieve.
Cloudless Day suggests that Dirty Red and the Soul Shakers are a superb band to see live. The quality of the songs and the musicianship is uniformly excellent. There is just a gnawing sense that the album would have benefitted from a little more light and shade amidst all the roaring power.