For Rick Shaffer, his career in the music industry has been an arduous, but worthwhile process and experience. After founding the band The Reds®, who had their first album and EP on A&M (The Reds, and Green With Envy), followed by several more independent albums for Stony Plain (Stronger Silence, and Fatal Slide), and Tarock Music (Cry Tomorrow, Fugitives From The Laughing House, and Early Nothing ), Shaffer made the definitive decision to embark on his journey as a solo artist. Over the past couple of years, Shaffer has made sure to release new solo music, every year, ranging from his first solo album in 2010, Necessary Illusion; his 2011 release Hidden Charms; his third solo release Idiot Flats in 2012; his 2013 release Stacked Deck, and most recently, his 2014 solo venture, Misadventure. His latest release takes Shaffer back into the stylistic sense of garage blues, unleashing a 12-track album dominated by distortion and phenomenal hooks.
The opening track, “Fooling Me” is the textbook definition of a jamming, driving, bright blues track. The song’s grooving, consistent percussion heightens the track, emphasized by the repetitive, smoothly played ride cymbal tapping and constant snare drum strikes, which occur on beats two and four of every measure. Accompanying the driving percussion is the dominance of Shaffer’s vocals and the grungy and distorted, yet melodic guitar strumming. Amidst the powerful instrumental parts, Shaffer still manages to vocally control the track with his rough, raspy voice that drifts above the guitar tones and heavy drumming.
Following the opening track is “Some Say,” and on it, Shaffer doesn’t allow the mood to simmer down, nor does he allow the pace to slow down. A faster-tempo track complete with driving, strong instrumentals, “Some Say” is an impeccable track to follow “Fooling Me,” as it keeps with the strong, rocking nature. The percussion in “Some Say” seems to identify with more of a rock influence versus the percussion heavily influenced by blues on the first track. However, the influence of blues on Shaffer’s music is still audible through the melodies and underlying tones conveyed by the electric guitar’s riffs. Noticeable on “Some Say” is how Shaffer allows his voice to smooth out, permitting his delivery to be gentler, compared to the first track. Though the gruffness of his voice is still heard, Shaffer doesn’t overreach for higher notes, which allows him to demonstrate his vocal control, but still with a semblance of roughness and raspiness. Even until the song fades away, Shaffer continues rocking out, never letting the jam session truly end. “Some Say” is another grooving track, proving that Shaffer knows the exact formula to create a composition that everyone will rock out to.
Stylistically, blues remains the foundation of Shaffer’s Misadventure, but it’s interesting to hear how he experiments and formulates his own definition of blues and rock. His experimentations are overheard on the album’s standout tracks, which include “Out of Time,” “Falling Down and “To The Top.”
With “Out of Time,” Shaffer doesn’t deviate from his standard formula of punchy, energetic percussion combined with grungy, reverberating guitar riffs, but the experimentation comes from his other choices in instrumentation. Along with his usual instrumentation, Shaffer adds on a sweeping, melodic harmonica part that immediately grabs the listener’s attention. Though a minor addition, the harmonica part shifts the dynamic of the entire composition, enforcing Shaffer’s blues tendencies. Along with the harmonica, Shaffer adds a tambourine part to the track’s percussion, a consistent and supportive choice, which never stops its sixteenth note rhythms. “Out of Time” is an instrumentally jam-packed composition, one that never lacks in energy, and one that never makes one want to stop listening.
“Falling Down” is more of a mid-tempo number, strengthened by its instrumental introduction. Leading in with smooth, masterful guitar solo and the striking of a crash cymbal on beats one and three, Shaffer opts for a unique way to begin the track. Quickly, Shaffer’s voice enters the track, but it doesn’t resonate with as much dominance as usual, as if he’s trying to give the instruments the platform to dominate. The overpowering instruments do takeaway from Shaffer’s vocals at times, sometimes precluding the listener from hearing the vocals as well as possible. The cymbal hits and rock-influenced, grunge guitar and bass parts are what control “Falling Down,” which make for an instrumentally strong track where the instruments are very much in the listeners’ face.
On “To The Top,” Shaffer returns to his blues roots, but a noticeable aggressiveness is overheard in his vocals: it’s a new Shaffer with even more power and dominance. On “Falling Down” his ability to command a track may have been questionable, but Shaffer refutes any hesitations with “To The Top.” With the accompaniment of light tambourine, auxiliary percussion, electrifying guitar strumming, and the sporadic harmonica, Shaffer yells out, “Take it back to the top | I ain’t running no more, from those things I should ignore | The only thing I been running from that heartbreak that I know will come | Living in some dream of yesterday | Take it back to the top.” Even as the instrumentals try to collide with his vocals, nothing can take away from Shaffer’s vocal performance on “To The Top.” While he’s proven that he can command a track, there’s a certain demanding nature to his voice on “To the Top” that showcases the true power and strength his voice has.
The album concludes with “Another High” which is a track that has a strong sense of all that Misadventure represents: strong and eclectic instrumentation, grungy and distorted guitar riffs, and raw, commanding vocals. The guitar lead that introduces the track fuels the song’s positive vibes, along with the snare drum strikes and harmonica riffs that shortly follow. With this track, Shaffer creates a mood that’ll permit listeners to chill out, relax, and truly enjoy the jam-session taking place. There’s nothing awfully flashy about the concluding track, other than the slick guitar undertones or wavering harmonica melodies. Overall, to conclude Misadventure, Shaffer capitalizes on his strengths of producing remarkably rocking and grooving tracks.
It’s inevitable that listeners will jam along with, tap their fingers to, and nod their heads along to Shaffer’s songs on Misadventure. However, what is most admirable about Misadventure isn’t necessarily how infectious it can be, but how raw the album is. It’s easily heard through Shaffer’s passionate, commanding vocals and the masterful instrumentation that music is Shaffer’s craft – a craft that he’s never given up on. The production on the album is never too high-end, but that contributes to the album’s rawness and its overall vibe. There’s a decent range of sounds throughout Misadventure, but what truly makes it stand out is that it’s all about the craft. Shaffer is an artist who intends on continuously mastering his craft and producing blues-influenced, strong songs, which is what Misadventure alludes to.
∎ Alexa Spieler
(Alexa Spieler’s diverse writing covers subjects such as the Vans Warped Tour, which began in 1995 as a showcase for punk rock, the annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day tennis event, as well as reviewing various music genre albums and singles.)