Back when I reviewed Columbia alt-country artist E.Z. Shakes (AKA Zach Seibert) earlier this year, I knew his next release was going to be a different affair; gone is the sparse, nearly lo-fi home recording feel that marked his 4-song E.P., replaced by a full-band sound with snapping country rock found on his new full-length, The Wolf. Benefiting from a mostly live recording at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium studio by Missy Thangs, the full band set-up is heavily in force here, with John Furr, Stanford Gardner and Todd T. Hicks providing Seibert with the backup to create something a little different and more full-bodied. They sound like a long-standing band- there is no feel here of a songwriter getting some session guys together. “It’s a family. We’re all tempered,” says Seibert and I thank him for assembling a team that doesn’t leave that bad check-cashing service feel in my mouth.
The four songs from that EP have been redone and my original thoughts on them are here. Although I loved the DIY feel of the earlier recordings, these newer versions have a little more oomph, the color of the extra instrumentation and the power of the pro recording taking it all to the next level. We also get seven more new originals (counting the previous single, “Rock n Roll”). “Hands in Your Pockets” is like some great long-lost Mellencamp ’80s roots rocker, drums and bass chomping at the bit while Zach Seibert emotes. I feel like so many bands playing in this style sneer at instrumentation and tonal color, but E.Z. Shakes knows what we like, with his thoughtful lyrics completing the song every time. Much like the previous EP, the pedal steel (courtesy of Todd T. Hicks) on every song here is outta sight- perfectly moody, perfectly placed, nearly cinematic in scope and a solid compatriot/foil to Seibert’s sometimes dire drawl. “Green-Eyed Girl” is some good ‘ol harmonica-heavy alt-country, melodicism and strong playing being the center. A simple conversation turns deep here: “she said she loved me/ in spite of my big dreams/I said I’d make it up to her/ she smiled back and said that I’ve heard/more than one time in my life/ you’re married to the songs you write”. “Rock n Roll” is a tribute to the life-affirming force, church and last chance that music itself can be for so many. “The Wolf” is about getting old and change and Seibert reminds me of the great Jon Snodgrass here a lot. “Vietnam” is maybe the most personal of all the songs here, Seibert taking the listener on a tour of his father’s life and the range of colors that made up his experiences.
Not afraid to rock and not afraid to bare his soul, this is songwriting not meant to be over-intellectualized, either. It’s Seibert laid bare. It’s a diary, a testament, a consecration. The singer-songwriter is the root but the band dynamic gives it the authenticity so many bands milking this genre lack, no matter how snappy their dialogue. E.Z. Shakes (the band) is the real deal. They are having release parties at New Brookland Tavern tonight (June 29th) and at the Tin Roof Charleston on July 6th, so go catch what will obviously be amazing shows.
Recommended if you like: John Cougar Mellencamp, Drag the River, Tim Barry