April 22, 2024
Steve Shanahan – Blue Ranchero

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Steve Shanahan – Blue Ranchero

Self Release

SteveShanahan.net

14 tracks: 48 minutes, 6 seconds. 

Steve Shanahan fell in love with guitar and the blues at just 5 years old, going through his father’s record collection and high-fi sound system. Dedicated to traditional, electric blues, Shanahan said some of his greatest influences are BB King, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Shanahan’s first solo release, Blue Ranchero, a collection of high energy covers from the classic blues canon and an original arrangement, comes across as a testament to the power of guitar driven blues.

“Driftin’ Blues” features high distortion, on howling, mean guitar, and a strong presence throughout the song. The entrancing, intoxicating guitar progresses up and down blues scales as Shanahan sings about how he is “drifting like a ship on the sea… I ain’t got nobody in this world to care for me.” Effective percussion adds to a pulsing, driving rhythm in this track about infidelity that led man on to an aimless course.

Another strong track, perhaps the best on the LP, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” (J. Reed), delivers excellent storytelling, tasty melodies, and strong, emotional organ (Judd Nielsen) and harmonica (Mikey Junior). Shanahan delivers a comforting, tender voice, like honey on toast, crooning about how he would “rob, steal, kill somebody just to get back home” to his lover. The instrumentation possesses a slick, sophisticated swagger that bolsters the smooth, almost enchanting voice.

“Dangerous Mood” is clean and polished, with shimmering guitar work if a bit dry.

Strong guitar, a characteristic of the album in general, is on full display on “One Way Out” the beloved Sonny Boy Williamson song brought to mass popularity by the Allman Brothers Band. Shanahan and his band play with high energy, with dazzling keys from Judd Nielsen and buzzing harmonica coming from Mikey Junior. Shanahan sings with emotion about slipping out the back window “cause there’s a man out there, might be your man, I don’t know…” in the celebrated marital infidelity song.

Another blues-rock tune, You Got to Move”, attributed to Fred McDowell and Reverend Gary Davis, but discovered and popularized by the Rolling Stones (on Exile on Main Street), explodes into a badass, funky fervor, straight from the hot guitar intro. A hypnotic groove emanates from the electric guitar and rock solid percussion. The blistering guitar groans like a soul in agony as Shanahan almost shouts “You’ve got to move child… You may be rich, you may be poor… When the Lord gets ready, you’ve got to move.” The instrumentation is stripped down and simple here – which tends to be when Shanahan is most effective.

While this LP contains covers of great bluesmen throughout, in “The Blues Had a Baby”, Shanahan directly pays homage to some of his heroes, including Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Winters, and James Cotton.

Shanahan and his backing band come across as technically proficient, but the album sometimes suffers from almost entirely relying on cover material. Shanahan pulls songs from, among others, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Freddie King, and Elmore James.

The only song written by Shanahan, the titular “Blue Ranchero”, doesn’t come until the end of the LP. Shanahan should explore how he can create his own unique sound and storytelling to emerge as an excellent blues musician in his own right.

That said, there is more than enough good material to merit a listen. “Further On Up The Road” for instance, is a slow burner with a barrage of low guitar notes describing a femme fatale who “put poison in my coffee, instead of milk and cream.” Jimmy Pritchard’s bass line comes through insistent and funky and the song expresses resilience.

Shanahan’s background in jazz studies emerges in several parts of the albums giving a more improvisational feel to some classic blues songs and a welcome eclectic taste.

Blue Ranchero gets its name from a Ranchero– a cowboy Cadillac, half car, half truck, with a V-8 engine, a “little truck that hauls ass!” as Shanahan wrote in the album liner notes. The Ranchero seems a fitting metaphor for the guitar-powered blues on display in this album.

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