With The Southern Surreal, the Shack Shakers explode the ‘Southern Gothic’ concept, reaching so deep into the forbidden roots of Southern culture that the rich mud they bring forth is almost unrecognizable. It’s the kind of album that could only have come from the brain of frontman/mad genius JD Wilkes, a relentlessly curious Southern renaissance man who’s just as comfortable shredding the hell out of a packed house full of sweaty fans as he is settling into a late night jam with an elder mountain fiddler. As bandleader for the Legendary Shack Shakers, he’s been compared to iconoclasts like David Byrne, Iggy Pop and Jerry Lee Lewis.
On The Southern Surreal, the fire-breathing rockabilly (“MisAmerica”), cautionary crooning (“The One That Got Away”), and punk country (“Christ Alrighty”) the Shack Shakers used to be known for is still there, but the music has deepened to bring in influences as disparate as Mississippi hill country trance blues (“Fool’s Tooth”), mountain banjo and square dance songs (“Mud”), and Tom Waits-ian barrelhouse piano (“Demon Rum”), not to mention the found sounds that JD slipped into the recording, like crackly radio sermons, trains, coyotes, and ghost story field recordings.
In the end, you’d think a band with six critically acclaimed studio albums, song placements on shows like HBO’s True Blood, and fans like horror author Stephen King or Americana icon Robert Plant, might take this one a bit easy. But the Legendary Shack Shackers are rolling harder than ever, bringing a new sound tied as much to the South’s haunted folklore as to the wall-rattling live shows that first gave them their ‘legendary’ moniker.