by Michael R. Walker
The new self-titled record from Whiskey Shivers is a goddamned rodeo of madness. Like a lot of people, I first heard Whiskey Shivers whilst drinking alone and wasting my life on Reddit, where I stumbled across their hilarious murder video. The internet loved it, I loved it, and consequently became a fan. It’s amazing what a little slam-grass and murder will do for a musical career.
Still, The Shivers have never been my go-to folk outfit, but I’ve always respected the work they do and their live show has consistently left me drunk and smiling over the last few years. As a longtime lover of traditional bluegrass, I often find myself feeling frustrated– and a little pretentious– when people ask if you’ve heard this bluegrass band called Whiskey Shivers. They’re not a bluegrass band, but they do play bluegrass sometimes and it’s a unique strain. So in this spirit, I breathed in deep before listening to the new record and prepared myself for a heavy schtick– rowdy folk tearing walls down with ripping banjo lines, punk tempos, and comedic musical antics. I was surprised.
This album walks a different gait than both Batholith and Rampa Head. Sure “Free,” their opener, packs heat and tosses the shoulders of your jacket back. But their second number, “Friends,” introduced me to a gentler, creepy-uncle incarnation of Whiskey Shivers I’d not yet met.
Admittedly, the transition jarred me. And much was the same on my first listen – it wasn’t the cursory movement that I’d expected or even wanted. But once I put in the work and listened hard on the second run through, the color blended a bit more and I found myself really enjoying the thing.
“Hot damn that’s a Whiskey Shivers album!”
It’s arrogant to pretend that I’ve got some great insight into the sound that they were trying to create together in the studio so I won’t. It’s boring to highlight a few songs from the record with quaint little thoughts so I won’t. Instead let’s use this moment together as you read this on your bathroom break at work to discuss a band who is helping to shape and build the Austin music scene.
It’s not an easy thing to be a musician from Austin. The market is saturated and generally a venue is happy to pull an out of town band if a local act can’t meet demands. Most bands fall apart after the 190th gig they don’t get paid for. Despite this, Whiskey Shivers continue to put out solid tunes and their ambition to more heavily draw on and use influences makes a statement about their work ethic and willingness to take risks. The pudding is proof – this record moves across a wide berth of genres and dares to change shape. We’re talking about everything from Appalachia to Zydeco. They’ve developed their familiar style and are feeling out the space beyond. If you can’t hear that in this recording, you may have been listening to the new U2 album by mistake.
It’s difficult to argue that these folk are just trying to get by playing tunes to fill a record. They’re stretching their abilities, challenging the way people consume music, and doing it all while proudly wearing Austin and booze on their breath. It takes a lot of balls to grow and these ladies and gents most certainly have balls.
They’re not writing about happy parties all the time either. If you can listen to their new song, “Graves,” and walk away from it without chills, you likely had the volume too low and forgot what it’s like to want to kill that sonofabitch who did you wrong. And if you can listen to “Long Low Down” without closing your eyes and remembering getting out of rehab, you probably already know that you don’t have feelings anymore or have had a very comfortable life.
I’m excited to see what kind of tree they grow up to be over the next few years and even though this album was solid, I’m looking forward to hearing their next one even more. If there is one piece of advice I’d leave with the band it’s this: slow down just a little bit more. Austin’s not really a ski town and I long to hear the aching and haunting ballads you haven’t written yet.
Michael R. Walker hales from the flatlands of a wind-bleached Amarillo, TX. After departing this desolate place, traveling the world, and surviving a bout with amoebic dysentery he matriculated at Texas State University, obtaining approximately 2 degrees – respectively in Archaeological Iconography and Creative Writing. He loves bluegrass, whiskey, and would gladly sacrifice his friendship with you for a desperate love-spiral of pizza consumption. Michael currently works as a freelance web designer, plays guitar for the Austin band Ghostbunny, is a contributing author for Ovrld, and a poet/essayist for Velvet Dust Magazine.