PORTLAND, Maine — Music moves us, stirs our currents, shakes our foundations and quakes the tether that roots us. All those many songs you've heard that have played as your own personal soundtrack. The ballads and anthems, the bending of words to notes that float above us, you wonder, at times, can anyone else hear what I am hearing? The tingle in your spine, the ache in your teeth as you gaze into the rotting maw of the 'forlorn rags of growing old.' Then some new melody appears, a story told bending words in ways you didn't know they could be bent suggesting you walk within the shadows of the flames. This isn't some campfire singalong, this is something different. It's Johnny Clay Shanks fronting his band that picks up the torch where Uncle Tupelo left it, having picked it up where Graham Parson's hid it. it's still burning and Shanks is adding some gasoline to this fire. He's wrapped the torch in Texas thunderstorms and mixed them with the hoary northern winters we endure in Maine. If you listen closely, you can hear the crickets in Texas, chiming with the tree frogs in Cumberland. He's bridging that gap.
He's surrounded himself with some folks that found the same forge to bend them. He starts his lament in The Wire unaccompanied, but slowly, without notice, the band has filled the void and wrapped its bony fingers around your heart. Shanks brings you on the journey and they pick you up, just enough to relieve gravities tether and let you recognize there is something looking back from deep in the void.
So as you walk into that last good night, there's still hope for what you may leave behind, and Johnny Clay Shanks Band will keep you from feeling alone.
But don't take my word for it. Johnny Clay Shanks is playing at Empire May 4th, and half of the show is a tribute to the man in black.