Review: Shawn James and the Shape Shifters – The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shape Shifters (2015)

I had initially discovered SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS quite accidentally. In fact, I first heard the five piece act opening a show for another well known band, HE IS LEGEND. Originally, I was floored by the onslaught of sound made by SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS. This particular group of musicians, it seemed to me, were able to warp time using nothing but their instruments. Furthermore, they appeared to morph in and out of each segment through wholly unexpected arrangements, perhaps being the inspiration behind the name THE SHAPESHIFTERS.

I was incredibly taken aback by the pure originality of the music as well as the raw energy that permeated from the stage. When I was offered the chance, a couple of weeks later, to review their new album, The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shape Shifters, I leapt at the opportunity. At a loss for a fitting label to describe the band, a banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass guitar and drums are the ingredients that make up this genre bending quintet; a recipe that can only be described as, “Rock and Roar,” (James).

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Shawn James moved to the Northwest Arkansas region approximately three years ago where he began, “Building the band we are now,” (James). When speaking on the sounds and inspiration behind their new album, The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shape Shifters, James stated that, “The music we play now [is] a natural progression for us. We all have diverse tastes in music and what we play comes from being inspired by many things.” He went on to say that the band draws inspiration from, “Many myths and stories from all over the world, not just one in particular,” (James).

Despite gathering inspiration from a plethora of myths and worldly stories, I could find not one of the gut-wrenching phrases that had very much to do with fantastical tales of the devil in his grandest of antics. Instead of fictional musings, I found the devil’s work in the misery of the orchestrated racket behind the anguish of Shawn’s beguiled growl. All of which had to do with substantial matters found in genuine pain whether directly or indirectly experienced. The final product, an eloquently arranged sonic bouquet mastered for mass consumption.

SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS do not need any gimmicks or horror lyrics to bring forth gnashing of teeth. The artists appear to understand that life is just as amazing, fantastical, frightening, and insecure as any fantasy could ever be, if not more so. Neither is the band quite so country that the bulk of their musical repertoire is spoiled with rotten caterwauling about love lorn, nor is their body of work filled with egotistical aural ejaculations about short-lived projections of idealistic love.

Instead, SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS tap into the truths held deep within our essence, regurgitating sensual testament and blurring the boundaries between genres as they guide us through auricular playoffs. Teasing listeners with multiple near-climaxes followed by slowdowns which abound at nearly every peak, SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS’ dominate cerebral sound waves much in the same way dominatrices rule somatically.

Precisely the attitude needed to create a genre breaking score, SHAWN JAMES AND THE SHAPESHIFTERS achieve just that with their new release The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shapshifters. Polluted with Shawn’s gruff-growl and weighty lyrics, the record features a haunting fiddle and a banjo that’s plucked straight to the emotional core, churning it along to the swampy fuzz guitars and riding out the mismatched tempos (James). Like a nightmare from the annals of Dixie history transposing itself into an audible, nearly tangible cacophony, The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shape Shifters is flittered with hints of homage to a euphonic heritage from the Deep South providing listeners with nothing short of a groundbreaking experience in music. (Taina Tirado)

James, Shawn. E-mail Interview. 03, April, 2015.

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