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The Shivers
 The Buried Life, Restless Records CD 72915, 1996

Is it cold on your shoulder?

The Buried Life is the second album by The Shivers, following their well received 1994 debut. The trio produces sparse, clear music that is at once traditional and modern, much of it mining the same vein The Band once successfully claimed as its own. Despite their moments of undeniable brilliance, The Band was ultimately limited by the tunnel vision of the mythic Canadian-American experience they so reveled in. The Shivers skirt this problem with a more varied approach that, while certainly not there yet, may someday lead to the motherlode.

Carey Kemper and Kelly Bell share vocal responsibilities, each singing lead and backing the other. The mix of male and female voices results in a richer variety of arrangements than the standard folk-rock instrumentation might indicate. Kemper's strong, brooding cowboy stance contrasts nicely with Bell's heavily accented country girl, much like Johnny and June Carter Cash.

On the opening cut, "Shade The Light," Kemper's deep vocals, mandolin lines and traditional sound establishes the ground rules for the rest of the album. While never reaching into despair, there's an undeniable haze of melancholy enveloping this disc. But it's tempered by Kemper's sense of humor, evidenced by the gently self-mocking "Cool to be a Loser" and "Cult 45."

Bell provides an important balance, but her solo vocals are often wasted in ballads that sound too much like obligatory female acoustic set pieces. More interesting is "No Love Lost," which plays her plaintive voice against Kemper's world-weariness, or "Stranger," with its pumping X-like sound, complete with the patented Exene Cervenka wail.

Other highlights on this collection include "Cannonball," featuring a stripped down bass and drum rhythm section, accented by a quiet, surf-soaked reverbed guitar, in a wonderful rockabilly ballad. "Tumbledown Girl" is a catchy little barroom rocker: imagine Neil Young's "Barstool Blues" two or three drinks earlier in the evening.

I've discovered the title "The Buried Life" comes from a poem by the 19th century British Arthurian poet Matthew Arnold, a reference that I must admit is entirely lost on me. However, I have also discovered thatThe Buried Life album is a very fine piece of work, and I'd watch for The Shivers to be picked up by a major label soon. They need a big company that is capable of giving them the promotional push they'll need to squeeze onto the formulaic radio we seem stuck with these days. If there's any justice, Restless Records (and The Shivers too) will then reap the rewards from bandwagon sales of their first two efforts. -  Bill Kuhn

 Jason Staczek says... Bill's review sent me running after this disc hoping to catch a few echoes of The Band myself. Well, they were pretty faint by the time I got there, but I didn't come away disappointed, either. The Shivers do share a certain melancholia with The Band, but paint their pictures in shades of black and thunderstorm gray against The Band's brown and sepia. I think what I wasn't hearing was the influence of Band keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. As a trio, The Shivers produce a sound that is much more open and somehow more chilling. I'm reminded of early New England winters, short days that somehow never seem to fully shake off the night. We may not agree on the pedigree, but Bill is dead-on calling this a fine piece of work. It begs repeated listening.

production notes & song titles

Carey Kemper, vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, dobro, fiddle, lap steel, mandolin; Kelly Bell, vocals, electric and acoustic bass, acoustic guitar; Barry Haney, drums and percussion.

Produced by The Shivers, Tom Herders and Tom Kilman.

Shade The Light | House Of The Spirits | Stranger | Make A Wish | Cannonball | Follow The Rain | Tumbledown Girl | No Love Lost | Cult 45 | Cry Of Love | The Wind In Abilene | Dark Of The Moon | Cool To Be A Loser | Close Your Eyes

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.