Shinbone Star – Whiskey & Gin
Shinbone Star’s debut record Whiskey & Gin is driving Blues-Rock with a big bass-y bottom. This brand of Blues-Rock is the straight ahead stomping George Thorogood type. There is hard charging drums, loud up-front and on the beat bass and stabs of steely slide guitar. Shinbone Star hails from Upwey, Victoria, Australia and is obviously a strong bar band. This record seems to be a labor of love and the culmination of a life-long desire to make music.
The 12 original songs of Whiskey & Gin were written by bass player Michael Woodrow so the bass-centric sound is not surprising. Additional bass is handled by Brandon Miller, Al Castor and Joela Saintil. Woodrow et al. lock in with drummers Mats Marklund and Bruno Ufet creating a sturdy utilitarian foundation. Lead singer Bronwyn Jones has a clear strong voice and delivers Woodrow’s songs for the most part with confidence and conviction. Co-lead vocalist Mark Petlock is a good blues-harpist. Unfortunately he can’t really compete with Jones and his three vocal spotlights are a little out of place. The keyboard work handled by Danny Oakhill with help from Jeremy James is especially effective and helps to break out of the chugging sonic landscape . There are a number of guitarists lead by band regular Adam Haig with Andrew Williams and Brenden Alexander all of whom are fairly consistent in style, it is not indicated who plays on which track. Slide guitarist Grant McDonough is clear and clean with his bottleneck work.
When this band is able to step aside from big riff motoring and inject a bit of air and shuffle into their music they really shine. Tracks like “Eye on You” and “No Pie” have great up tempo boogie feels. “No Pie”’s double entendre “I got a rolling pin, but you ain’t gettin’ no pie” to Bronwyn Jones’ deadbeat alcoholic lover is a strong fun performance. Slow blues like “Devil on My Shoulder” and “Heart of the Blues” also work well. There is strong connection between lead guitar and Jones’ vocals. Her relaxed and wailing phrasing is especially effective here.
There is an efficiency in songwriting, arrangement and performance that adds a professional polish to recorded music. Bands like AC/DC or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have it and know how to edit themselves to ensure concise and always strong performances. Shinbone Star miss opportunities at this professional efficiency, especially on “Denial Is a River” and “Altar Boy Blues.” Both songs do not play to the musicians’ strengths. “Denial” is fast but not moving, the drumming is rigid. Jones is breathless after each verse trying to push too many words out of her laid back voice. There is unnecessary dead space in between verses and the chorus rhyming is overt. In “Altar Boy” the song writing is unsettling, and not in a good subversive way as the material might lend itself too. There is a weird chord change 2/3rds of the way through the form that kills the flow. Additionally this is one of Mark Petlock’s solo vocal outings. His spoken throaty growl isn’t strong enough to carry the overly simplistic lyrics.
Shinbone Star is a hard charging Blues-Rock band. The music on Whiskey & Gin must be a blast to listen to in an Australian bar. With a little more polish this music could translate very well into the recorded landscape. This debut has the promise and the musicians have the talent.