Canada is a huge country with a relatively sparse population (compared to the U.S., anyway). As a result we're a nation of many musical pockets. Touring is rather impractical when the next gig is hundreds of miles away, so it's absolutely essential for a band to put a CD together.
That's not to say that a recording will automatically transform a regional act into international superstars. But in the case of Shirley Jackson & Her Good Rockin' Daddys, who hail from Halifax down on Canada's east coast, the release of "Careful What You Ask For" ought to significantly expand their local reputation as a first-rate ensemble, easily the equal of most on the scene.
The Good Rockin' Daddys seem an unpretentious bunch; throughout the disc's fourteen tracks (eight of 'em Shirley originals), they offer offering solid if unspectacular support, always keeping solos short and to the point. Special mention goes to drummer Gary Potts, who utterly nails that behind-the-beat Texas shuffle sound, infinitely more difficult to achieve than it sounds. Guest harmonicists Joe Murphy and Phil Potvin add significantly to the project's success, both understanding the harp's place in the pantheon, offering rhythmic underpinning here, squalling blasts there, all nicely textured.
As a writer Shirley displays both a fine lyric sensibility and a comfortable grasp of just about every style of blues extant, from jazzy jump to swamp-pop to western swing. (The disc's closer, a bittersweet ballad called "I Believe," is quite simply beautiful). Again there's nothing startling, nothing likely to alter one's worldview, but everything's done with good taste and confident competence, and she clearly knows how to construct a catchy chorus.
The disc's lone problem is something of a backward one; Shirley's almost too much of a singer for some - not all, mind - of the material. On the swinging, jazzier numbers she's fine - check out how sultry she sounds on "Million Dollar Heart," how sassy her take is on "Ooh Poppa Do" - and she handles the two tracks that venture into western swing territory with aplomb. But on the more straightforward twelve-bar stuff her phrasing occasionally comes across as a little exaggerated, when a more direct, more declamatory style would work better. As a result some lines seem unduly stretched. Sometimes simple is best.
That said, there's much to like here. Production is well nigh perfect, playing is fine (minor imperfections that might have been glossed over with a bigger budget actually add to the disc's success; there's an appealing, live-in-the-studio feel throughout), material is varied and well paced, remaining largely on the upbeat side. And that intangible quality, that the band is having fun, comes through loud and clear. Shirley merely needs to sort through her songs a little more, stick with material suited to her singing style, where a purr is appropriate rather than the growl she simply can't quite muster.
All in all a fine effort by a talent who should become better known.
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