Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band
C.B. Gitty Records
Shane Speal, the King Of The Cigar Box Guitar, and his Snake Oil Band has released, or should I say unleashed its new disc into the wild. The Snake Oil Band was born from weekly jam sessions and grew into one of York, PA’s biggest acts. Holler! brings together all the band’s favorites: sex, murder, booze, and Michael Jackson. Yeah, that Michael Jackson. Apparently the Snake Oil Band is known for its Prince covers too. Throw in some Son House, electricity, and a wicked sense of humor and you might start to fathom the depths of the musical depravity found in the Finest Bluest Blues Elixir this side of the Monongahela River. Holler!
I must confess I’ve never heard any of Shane’s previous discs. I didn’t know what to expect and had no frame of reference. I don’t usually go blind into these things but the album cover and the song titles pulled me in. The opening riffs and scorching slide of “49 YEARS” are menacing, mean and murderous; made in Hell, made in Heaven, made to make you dismayed. If Rob Zombie had a jug band it would sound like this. This is Captain Spaulding’s blues. He’s going to play this song while he chases you around the tunnels under his basement and you’ll like it. The song’s protagonist is spending “49 YEARS” in the pen and he’s not happy. Even the title is in CAPS; that’s mad. He’s got murdering in mind and you’ve got 49 MINUTES to live once he’s out. The sound is harsh, the percussion adds suspense, the shrieking slide and the howling harp add tension, and I’m pretty sure I heard finger-tapping around the 2:12 mark. If I never heard another song by this band I’d still consider them to be legendary. This might be the best blues song I’ll hear all year.
What’s really scary is the fact that all these sounds are made with jug band instruments. The band consists of Shane Speal on cigar box guitars, vocals and stomping foot, Ronn Benway on washboards, rubber chickens and stunts (stunts? I probably don’t want to know), Aaron Lewis on harmonica, vocals and confetti cannons, and Farmer Jon on electric washtub bass and high fives (for all those stunts, I suspect). The traditional instruments argument could be made from either side but these truly are traditional instruments. For ages humans have made music from re-purposed items. It’s the music that matters and the Snake Oil Band makes a glorious racket on their instruments of indeterminate origin. The “Holler! Medley: Holler, The Clapping Song, Line ‘Em Up, Black Betty” is menacing in its own right, “Strung Out, Drunk and Busted (And There’s A Body In The Trunk)” is the broken down, destitute blues you’d expect, and to brighten things up they throw in “How Long Will You Make Me Suffer.”
There are plenty of moments of good fun on Holler! too. “Judy Got A Booty” chugs along at a steam train pace. This is a stomper for sure. Shane works the slide in and around the beat and the harp pulses and pumps as the train rolls on. Catch a glimpse of that caboose if you can. “When She Gets Drunk, She Gets Horny” isn’t the love ballad you’d expect and “A Fat Man Will Love You (Like No Skinny Boy Can)” pretty much is. “Simulated Sadie” shows off the vocal talents of the band over an acoustic jug band arrangement. Sure, it’s about a woman who had a little too much work done and can’t move her lips any more, but what else would it be about? I doubt Sadie will voice any complaints.
Holler! closes with another frenetic thumping rocker called “Don’t Give Me None Of Yo’ Business” that, in a way, defines the mission of these musicians. They’re making music they want to make, on instruments they made and want to use, and they refuse to be penned in by convention. It is in this kind of setting that truly interesting and engaging music is made and Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band has done it. There is nothing fake here, no chicanery, no blatant salesmanship, no promises not kept. They aren’t selling Snake Oil but they are selling the cure for what ails you. Holler!
Please support the artists. For Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band show dates click here.