I have no idea whether Toronto's Dylan Wickens has ever actually been to Texas, but judging from "Shuffle This," he's sure got a lot of Texas in his musical blood.
Dylan, still relatively young in blues terms, admits that when starting out he was dazzled by furious fretwork; thankfully he's outgrown all that, and now he's all about tone and taste. The result is a lean, tough sound reminiscent of the late Albert Collins, an admitted influence.
On "Shuffle This," Dylan leads his crack quartet - augmenting his own guitar and vocals are Flip Townson on tenor sax, bassist Brent Kehoe, and drummer John Bouvette - through a live-off-the-floor session that smolders with intensity. With only two covers, it's an impressive debut indeed.
The party begins with "Like You Do," one of those classic Texas-style things with the tenor honking out a chunky rhythm line. Doug Sahm would've loved this track. "T-Bone Shuffle" comes next. Yeah, that one. Dylan laughs when asked why he chose to record a song that's already been done a gazillion times. "Just because I knew everyone would ask that," he says, adding "Hey, it's still a great tune!" While he may not add anything particularly new, his version's every bit the equal of most.
"Warming Up To You" features a great sax solo from Mr. Townson. He favours uncluttered lines, allowing flashes of melody to creep in instead of just riffing. "Red Dress On" heats things up, with the band showing they can swing with the best; I'd guess Dylan's spent a few hours listening to Gatemouth Brown. Check out the little flourishes, those furious little flurries he throws in as the band takes it home!
"Test Drive Blues" is a mid-tempo grinder that wouldn't sound out of place on Hound Dog Taylor's set list. Dylan invests Otis Rush' chilling, minor-key "All Your Lovin'" with all the ice-cold anguish it deserves, then injects "Enough" with so much brooding menace it's actually scary. Here again he shows himself a master at inserting subtle, incendiary flashes, startling in their inventiveness.
The party ends on a jazzy note with the inappropriately titled "Sitting On A Swing." Ain't nobody gonna sit through anything that swings this hard!
Dylan's vocals, while perfectly adequate, probably won't win him any awards; his rather workmanlike approach left me thinking a guest appearance or two might well have raised the bar a notch. Not really a weakness, but it's clear that his fretwork is where Dylan's strengths reside.
Some might find the sound on "Shuffle This" a little compressed, but to me that's offset by an "in the room" immediacy; with eyes closed it's easy to imagine yourself in a club with Dylan and the boys workin' hard for your listening pleasure. We can't all crowd into the club, though; thankfully "Shuffle This" makes a fine substitute for a front row seat.
Well done, Dylan!
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