SHANNON & THE CLAMS
This is a kind of partner to the other album reviewed here today, by The James Hunter Six, whose album also bridges the 1950s and the 1960s from an across-the-Atlantic perspective to Shannon & The Clams.
Americans Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard have a similarly long history to the English sextet, Onion being their fifth album. And as with the Brits, Shannon & The Clams play a kind of music that long ago went out of fashion but never really fell out of our affections.
If you’re new to the Clam bake, on Onion in the main it’s high emotion girl group pop with that post-Elvis clean American pop rock (think boys with single names and high hair); twang-and-organ surf fare and the Seachers end of the British Invasion; well brushed soul matched by strong dollops of Del Shannon; and even some signs that unlike two or three generations of music makers they haven’t forgotten the splendid Jackie De Shannon.
Some of their older doo-wop and R&B moves have been set aside here with Tryin’ the closest to the slicked hair/pressed suit style, albeit with a rare attempt here to beef up the sound to something modern.
It’s rare because there’s a definite scholarly attention here to the nuances of that period between Elvis and the Beatles: sonically and tonally, Shaw and Blanchard aren’t looking for anachronisms or incongruities. Well, except for the very fact of making records that often sound as if they’ve been lifted from a Pye single.
That’s why Tell Me When You Leave sounds like the Everlys backed by the Crickets: thin and wobbly, sweet and simple. And the space exploration-era Strange Wind (with a whistling solo!) may well have come out of the budget studio brain of Joe Meek, a man who probably could make a theremin sound out of tissue paper and comb.
And Backstreets is so unconcerned about hiding its Del Shannon manoeuvres it drops “runaway” in the opening line and I’d not be surprised to hear it was mixed mono.
Almost by definition, if you’re going to play in this sandpit, and do it without knowing winks, you will sound innocent – or naïve, depending on how you view these things. And not everyone can take that affectation for too long.
Even for those of us who don’t mind the sweet-and-innocent, Onion can sometimes feel a bit on the flimsy side – It’s Gonna Go Away would make That Thing You Do, Adam Schlesinger’s sugary gem title track to the Tom Hanks movie, sound like the Velvet Underground.
However, there is pleasure to be had most of the time in Onion’s period costumery and echoes of new fangled transistors, Gidget movies and wondering if that cutie across the aisle will hold your hand after school on the bus.