Shanda & the Howlers released a killer debut album (‘Trouble’) last year that ended up in my top 20 albums of the year. This new album snuck out on me at the beginning of the summer and finds the band steering clear of the sophomore slump by playing to their strengths. Shanda’s vocals were immediately identifiable on the debut and seem to be a little higher in the mix on this one as the band plays a 60’s style Stax influenced rhythm and blues style that packs some attitude.
Luke Metz bass gets the album started and brings ‘Hold On’ to life. Shanda immediately reminds us that she is a star waiting to be discovered by the mainstream. The call and response vocals on the chorus sound amazing, and the quick rhythm gets us moving from the first moments of the album. ‘Baby, You’re the One’ carries the momentum forward with another up-tempo beat combined with a strong hook. Shanda again asserts her identity on ‘Good Morning Heartache’ with its retro rockabilly feel compelling me to move.
‘Crying Over Nothing’ shines with its gentle horn touches adding some low-end texture to the methodical beat. Shanda has plenty of room here to be the focal point with each word she sings. The band’s ups the tempo with the fun ‘Wait and See’ that should see the dancefloor become a whirl of activity. The whole band is on fire with the rhythm section keeping the beat moving underneath the guitar hooks and awesome horn play. Sandra largely sings in a higher tone here guaranteed to make the hairs on your arm raise, and this sounds like a massive hit from back in the day. ‘Hand in Hand’ slides in on a slow pulsating groove. Trevor Johnson’s guitar solo takes the spotlight as everything fades away as he slowly takes the song to another level. ‘The Girl’s No Good’ makes for a rocking blues good time with a beat that would be at home on some early George Thorogood albums. Shanda has an awesome throaty low tone that commands a performance.
Keeping the toes tapping and the hips shaking, ‘Scurry Like a Rat’ sizzles out of the speakers with moments where every instrument hits the mix hard at one time and sounds like pure magic. This song swings hard on the beat. I really have to say that the sax work by Micah Lapping-Carr is incredible throughout this album. The title track introduces harmonica and acoustic guitars to a gritty vocal by Shanda. I think the best compliment I can really give this album is it makes me want to hear the whole album in a live setting in some dive bar with condensation sliding down the wood walls. ‘Blue-Eyed Trouble’ has been a grower on the album with a groove that builds onto its frame as the song goes. Johnson shines on the guitar here again, especially as the song reaches its final stretch. Finale ‘Close Your Eyes’ has an initial guitar lick that immediately made me think of ‘May This Be Love’ by Jimi Hendrix but immediately moves into more of Temple of the Dog’s ‘All Night Thing’ kind of musical vibe. It doesn’t quite hit the pinnacle that ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ hit on their debut, but it does close this album in style.
Shanda & the Howlers are two for two in releasing high-quality albums that take musical inspiration from the past and make it feel fresh, vital, fun, and powerful. Shanda will see her star rise in the years to come with her awesome vocals, especially with the dynamic, excellent musicians who make this a complete band and not a one lady show. Don’t let this album slide under your radar as you owe it to yourself to enter the world of Shanda & the Howlers.