Published Feb 12, 2018From Paducah, KY, Legendary Shack Shakers' vocalist J.D. Wilkes' roots-rock is carnivalesque. Wilkes uses terms like hillbilly-gypsy or boho bluegrass to express his latest project, which is grounded in the topography of Kentucky — a blending of mountain landscapes and the flat delta lowlands. His inspiration for Fire Dream creates a mingling of folk, jazz and blues.
The title track has an Eastern folk cabaret quality, giving the vivid illusion of a 19th century circus, with a round stage and a fire performer under a tent in front of seated onlookers. Usually, distorted vocals are unacceptable, but its effect on "Fire Dream" and "Hoboes Are My Heroes" gives Wilkes a theatrical presence that greatly enhances the mood.
"Moonbottle" hides a mystery in its lyrics and "Down in the Hidey Hole" accents ska and jazz notes by the Bo-Keys' horn section. The fiddle on the traditional country tune "Wild Bill Jones" is indispensable. A vocal cry with a Southern drawl starts "Starlings, KY," which defers to a bluegrass jig. "Walk Between the Raindrops," has a secret spy theme and "Rain and Snow" showcases finger-picking. The ending to "Bible, Candle and a Skull" is marvellously spooky and "That's What They Say" brings back a gypsy motif after letting the piano shine.
The resemblance between J.D. Wilkes and the Legendary Shack Shakers is presumed, but Wilkes fixes his mistakes in After You've Gone with Fire Dream. (Big Legal Mess)