Ever wonder what Damn Yankees would have sounded like without Ted Nugent? Possibly, a little like Shaw Blades. In 1995, the Nuge returned to his solo career with Spirit of the Wild. Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades had already formed a successful songwriting partnership (with an Aerosmith hit under their belts) and so together they continued. Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone joined them, but for the most part it’s expert Journey-man Steve Smith — one of the smoothest drummers in rock.
Expect acoustic rock and ballads with impeccable harmonies. Boring, you say? Not at all; not when you have a batch of songs this strong. Opener “My Hallucination” is a lament for the 1960s, with an electric guitar backing up Shaw and Blades’ perfect vocals. Those two guys can hit some notes. “I’ll Always Be With You” is more like campfire rock, a summetime gem and ode to innocent love. There are some sweet Def Leppard chords tucked in there. Third in line, the strong “Come to Be My Friend” gets a touch psychedelic but it’s the smoking acoustic soloing that will blow you away. Either that or the insanely good chorus harmonies.
“Don’t Talk to Me Anymore” is the first song you could call an outright ballad even though it’s a soft album. It’s lightly arranged with a less is more attitude. Then things get upbeat on “I Stumble In”, an outstanding memorable head-nodder. Journey fans will recognize their favourite drummer’s always fascinating tom tom work. Moving on to the album’s second true ballad, “Blue Continental”, a laid-back Southern vibe permeates. It’s logically followed by “Down that Highway”, upbeat but stripped to the basics. A couple acoustic guitars, two voices, some tambourine and accents (fiddle, keys) and you have a song!
The electric guitar comes out for “How You Gonna Get Used to This”, one of the less remarkable songs compared to the catchier acoustic tunes. The mandolin makes an appearance on “The Night Goes On”, another quiet but excellent ballad. “I Can’t Live Without You” draws things to an end, but is also unremarkable. Among diamonds, it fails to shine bright enough. Fortunately, the ending it was preceding is a short track simply called “The End”, which reprises themes from prior songs, tying up the album with a nice bow.
This album produced no commercial singles, but there were two extra tracks, exclusive to the Japanese CD. “How Does It Feel” brings back the electric guitar, but it’s more interesting than the other electric songs on the album. It could be a grower. “Straight Down the Line” is the gem. It’s the fastest song of the whole bunch, upbeat but light, and a blast in the car. Tommy’s intricate little lightning fast guitar hook is a tasty delight. Tracks like this are why collectors really seek out Japanese imports. They are their own rewards.
Any version of the debut Shaw Blades is going to be thoroughly enjoyed. Get one.