Rick Shaffer – Tightrope Ride – Album Review
What in the artwork Batman? If only we had a window into the soul of the psyche I tell ya.
I’m half-convinced that even in the event of some kind of mass catastrophe taking place worldwide, there would somehow still be Rick Shaffer standing there at the mic amidst all the rubble, plugged-in and rocking like he always has been from day one, well after the rest of us are gone. Long may you run brother.
In a move that’ll make you wonder if you’re late to the show & missed the opening act, Rick’s new record starts immediately with “Too Much” – and when I say immediately, that’s exactly what I mean. You’ll wonder if you pushed play somehow before you actually did, that’s how quickly this machine fires up, and the steady rhythm & groove of “Too Much” takes over just as fast. According to what I’ve read, the man was going for a mix of something along the lines of a Bowie-meets-Iggy thing – and you can definitely hear the influences of The Stooges on a track like this without question. Rick’s always gonna be Rick – you couldn’t take the Rick OUT of Rick if you tried & pulled your hardest – so while you get a hit of something borrowed, you still get the fresh electric & raw vibe that he’s brought to pretty much everything I’ve ever heard from the guy. If y’ain’t familiar with the man, this certainly isn’t his first rodeo…this is Shaffer’s eleventh record and his music speaks volumes on behalf of his veteran status – you won’t hear a cut from Rick that doesn’t radiate professionalism & the raw spirit of rock combined. Huge credit to Stevie Carlisle on the drums in this tune as well…this guy is crushin’ it back there and clearly having the time of his life playing this track, and that’s an energy we can feel come straight through the speakers. How could he not be? Trust me when I tell ya, pushing play on Tightrope Ride instantly reveals a track with the kind of gripping vibes that’ll keep ya listening through the entire lineup. LISTEN to how Rick slides straight into the hooks will ya? Those drums come alive…Shaffer’s locked right into the moment & feelin’ it…guitars & bass are all on-point…tight song, loose deconstruction at the end – “Too Much” has the right amount of everything and gives ya a perfect gateway into Rick’s new record.
One of the real signs of an artist that has been around the scene for a while and knows what he wants out of his sound, is knowing how hard to lean on a riff and when to let it carry the song – and you’ll find that signature stamp running all the way through the second cut, “Ninety Nine Times.” At the heart of it all, don’t get me wrong – there’s still enough movement in the structure to keep the most restless among us engaged, but there’s a real static, mesmerizing, and hypnotic riff at work supplied by Rick’s guitars that runs through a very large portion of this song. Were it not as strong as it is, you might question a decision like that – but this is where the wisdom of his experience shines through – Rick knows how to rock right…the man has rarely, if ever, overplayed his hand. So while it might move a little slower & a lot more slyly as it creeps & crawls along…I can fully vouch for the fact that “Ninety Nine Times” is one of those cuts that grabs your attention, and keeps it with an iron grip. Shaffer does tone & texture among the best of’em out there…this song has plenty of it, as does the rest of this set-list – and considering that’s a lot of what he was going for with this particular recording, my hat’s off to the results. “Ninety Nine Times” is stocked full of swagger & style, brilliant guitar tones chiming in from the background, and an insatiable riff that, no matter how hard it’s leaned on here, never, ever gets stale. I’m not even remotely kidding when I say I could listen to this specific cut for hours on end…I dig this psychedelically-tinged garage-rockin’ slow-burn jam…this is a real trip, and one I’m stoked to be taking. The seriously wicked guitar tones in this track alone are worth the full price of admission y’all, believe it.
“Another Day” was a bit of a tougher transition for me…which ultimately speaks more to the strengths of the first two tracks, in my opinion. Quality-wise, execution-wise, you’re not going to find that “Another Day” breaks the stellar trend of steadiness to Rick’s rock – and I’d wager a guess that the other side of the coin would show a bunch of people out there stoked that this track brightens-up the vibe of Tightrope Ride in a noticeable, organic & natural way. It moves along with sensational depth in the drums and the stunning tone in the guitars that you love from Rick…even some harmonica in the mix for ya this time around as well…a hint of the Blues in the distant atmosphere & up-close vocal combination – if you were to tell me this was your favorite tune on Tightrope Ride, I’d give ya a high-five and support your decision without an argument…there’s no reason it couldn’t be. We all like what we like & love what we love – to me, “Another Day” had one of the hardest spots in the entire lineup to fill in being sandwiched between the hypnotic awesomeness of “Ninety Nine Times” and the melody in “Borderline” to follow. Still a good tune by all measures…”Another Day” is almost so dialed-back by comparison to the majority of the rest that there’s a chance this track might need to fight a bit harder for our attention.
“Borderline” is one of those tracks that I really admire for the way it came out with such a natural sound – the kind of cut where, it might not be perfect in some ways, but is perfectly imperfect – you follow me? Sure, there’s room for this track to grow maybe in a few spots or things that could have been rounded out to the nth degree to ensure its accessibility reached its maximum potential – but that’s not really what Rick does when he’s creating music…it’s much more in the moment than that, and often allows for organic twists to generate uniqueness in his music. Like, for me, I question the backing vocals a bit here…whether or not they came out with the strength they needed to really be the supporting idea they’re intended to be in the melody…maybe the occasional spot that seems to peak just a lil’ with the natural grit of the distortion…but so freakin’ what? I’ll tell ya this much – there wasn’t anything I ever found that would stop me from listening to this tune, and songwriting-wise, it’s one of my favorites on the record…so take what I’m sayin’ with a grain of salt now will ya? At the heart of it all, I’m pretty much 100% all about this song – I think it shows Rick in a great light that suits him extremely well. While it’s a more subtle tune on Tightrope Ride, there’s a brilliant, shimmering flash that resides at the center of this song, glowing warmly like something you’d hear from Michael Hutchence of INXS back in the day, somewhere around the Welcome To Wherever You Are era, which happens to be my personal favorite. I think of it like this…had “Borderline” found a way to work in a piano riff somewhere, you wouldn’t be all that far removed from a distant cousin to a track like “Beautiful Girl” – and that’s good company to be keepin’ as far as my ears are concerned. “Every heartache comes with a moment of truth” is also one of my favorite lyrical lines from Rick to be found on this record as well…tons of positives to be found here; I don’t need this cut to be smoothed out any further than it already is, even though I’d still be interested in where it could potentially go. Love the guitar solo this song ends on too – “Borderline” is memorable.
I think for the many longtime fans of Rick’s music, they’ll recognize “Bust Out” as the kind of spirited Garage-Rock sound they know & love from the guy from his past material. It’s not like Shaffer sets out to always do things completely differently than he did the last time – it’s more like building blocks that have stacked up to a fortress of a musical legacy, and this here would be another brick in the wall. The dude knows rock right from the roots on up, he’s never shy when it comes to finding the organic vibes even in the most amplified moments, and there’s quality hooks & upbeat energy people will definitely respond to on “Bust Out” for sure. It’s a “stoned out revolution” and proudly so – turn it on up I say.
I maintain…Stevie is a BEAST on the kit…I’ve been loving the mammoth tones & tin-can sounds comin’ outta the drums throughout this whole record. Teddy Rixon’s been a solid counterpart in the rhythm section as well when Rick ain’t playin’ the bass himself…Shaffer’s responsible for the everything else you’ll hear on this record outside of what those two supply. In a slick slide & grind combination to fuel the ride through “Expectation,” you’ll find another highlight example of the killer musicianship that is always present on a Rick Shaffer album…the guitars will pretty much attempt to steal the whole show here. Vocally, you’ll get one of Shaffer’s best as well though, so he gives his guitar riffs & solos some solid competition at the very least…all-in-all, a track like “Expectation” really reveals how much of a well-oiled machine this guy truly is…there’s a wildly exciting vibe & fluid flow through this cut that leads it to victory. Really well balanced between the strengths of the verses and chorus, in addition to the backing vocals & all that you’ll find in the instrumentation along the way – it’d be tough to choose any one part of “Expectation” and cite it as your favorite. Guitars have the edge for sure, but the competition is as stiff as the groove is loose – “Expectation” is a really strong cut in the lineup of tunes on Tightrope Ride.
You know…listening to music can be such an interesting experience when you’re examining it every day like I have been over these past couple decades & last ten here at sleepingbagstudios. Like…for example – a track like “Need Your Love” – this is a quality tune…fantastic slide guitars in the mix to be found again, and in general, it’s a solid rocker that’s a lot of fun to listen to. Not my favorite of the bunch, but by no means a bad tune…like most records we end up hearing, our ears interpret hills & valleys as they play whether or not they’re there, all based on personal preferences. What makes it interesting to me, is that even while I might not feel as much of an attachment to “Need Your Love” as an individual song, the record by & large, is bulletproof – which makes it kind of neat that both these things can co-exist. Not every track you’ll hear needs to be your favorite for an album like this to hold up strong from start to finish – that make sense? The cohesion in Tightrope Ride is essentially straight-up staggering, making this the kind of record that you can put on, spin, and repeat for hours & hours and you’ll never get bored – you all following me? What I’m saying is, I might not personally seek out “Need Your Love” as the one track I’m gonna play from the album individually, but this record overall, hell YES, I’ve got time for the whole thing – “Need Your Love” completely included in that assessment; it’s as essential as the rest are.
I think it would almost be too easy for most of us listening to get wrapped up with Rick’s vocals and the personality he brings to a microphone when he sings – so it’s my sincere hope that none of the dude’s impressive musicianship is gettin’ ignored by the people out there. “Two Fools” has some of my favorite guitar moments from Shaffer…most of’em in the background and in the solos too; it’s really something to hear a lot of what this guy creates not be featured too dominantly in the mix, almost like it’s always some kind of afterthought, which it’s of course, anything but. Rick rocks organically yes, but he thinks things through and knows what he wants when it comes time to push record…from there, if things end up taking a bit of a life of their own, so be it & rock on. “Two Fools” for you has a lot of attitude & edge to it, but it’s also a solid dose of what makes Rock music in general, fun to listen to…I felt like Rick was able to straddle both realms really well here. It’s the solos and the guitar tones that sold me most on “Two Fools,” but there’s plenty of that to enjoy on this cut & it’s got seriously deep pockets in its groove.
Carlisle – I love you brother. Credit to the mixers & masterers & all that too…I mean…you just couldn’t get a better sound outta the drums on this record if you twisted every knob & dial you got in your studio – and they’re a spectacular highlight with their steady pound on “Wild Dance.” I dig the weight & the ultra-serious feel the atmosphere has to this cut…it’s a heavy tune, played with an inspired approach, giving Rick’s music exceptional hybrid balance between the light and the dark in his sound & style once again. You gotta love that sound on Stevie’s drums here though…whether it’s the raw cold steely clap you hear on “Heterosexual Man” by The Odds or the filtered version of it you’d find on something like U2’s “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” or how they opened Achtung Baby with “Zoo Station” – plus a handful of other sonically special tunes throughout history of course, it’s just an insatiably badass tone from the snare I can never seem to get enough of. Obviously Rick’s got more grit & garage in his sound than either of these comparisons I’ve cited – you’re not gonna catch this guy drifting into any kind of overblown & exaggerated Bono-esque moments, no – the man keeps his cool & he’s got his thang. “Wild Dance” has a brilliantly defined vibe of its own…still cohesive with the record for sure, but really a noticeable standout for all the right reasons…no typical hooks here, just a display of kickass musicianship and serious know-how at work. From the textures of the sound & layers, to the gripping performance put in by Rick on the mic, to the wicked guitar work & drums – “Wild Dance” is a major highlight, and the kind of cut that you’ll likely need several spins to fully appreciate just how bulletproof & truly stronger than steel it really is. Creative freedom & expressive sound at its max potential here y’all, this cut rocks.
With ALL this good stuff being said and Rick living up to the high standards he’s set throughout his career in the pursuit of rockin’ ya – I think I could make a very strong argument on behalf of Tightrope Ride ending on what could be its most sparkling gem. Still covered in that layer of gritty garage dust as you’d expect it to be of course, but a gem all the same – and I’ll tell ya right where you’ll notice that difference being made for the first time…it’s right around the 1:22 mark. Don’t get me wrong, there is always melody in what Rick brings to the mic, it’s just not nearly the dominant trait or priority number one all the time…the man’s here to rock & generally speaking, that’s the gear you find him in vocally. On “Wrap It Up,” he makes an absolutely spellbinding departure into one of the best melodic moments I’ve ever heard from the guy…the kind of moment that makes you say “I want a whole lot more of THIS.” What makes a track like “Wrap It Up” as great as it is however, is that it needs everything else surrounding those melodic twists just as much for the impact to be made…one part complements the other & such…you know what I’m gettin’ at. I love the slow pound and hypnotic stroll through the way it begins…Rick’s right on target as you’ve ever heard him…and I’m tellin’ ya folks, that moment I’ve cited here…there’s a magic in that spot that can’t be beat. It has solid competition, like how the music sparks to life around the 1:50 mark as well and the presence of the music gets even bolder…or how the whole track seems to fluctuate so brilliantly with its energy while remaining so faithful to its steady beat overall – if I’m being truthful with ya, there wasn’t anything about “Wrap It Up” that I found to be anything less than completely impressive. Not just a highlight on Tightrope Ride, but in my opinion, a highlight in the man’s catalog of tunes to-date from the ones that I’ve heard myself. Definitely the kind of cut you wanna go out on – “Wrap It Up” demands repeating, and the journey it takes to get there is worth taking every time. Rick Shaffer has a remarkably strong grip on the sound he wants to create with the music he makes…Tightrope Ride is as cohesive of a record as you’ll be lucky enough to hear this year.
Get yourself a copy of “Too Much” free at Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/tarockmusic/too-much
Find out more about Rick Shaffer from the official page at Tarock Music: https://tarockmusic.com
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