Chris Shiflett is playing Glastonbury this year with his ‘other band’ Foo Fighters, where he is lead guitarist and gets to work next to his boss, Dave Grohl, the nicest man in Rock.
Thanks to his excellent podcast ‘Walking the Floor’, which goes deep into the lives and work of musicians Chris sits down and talks to (Sam Outlaw is on the most recent one), Chris is establishing himself as Second-Nicest Man in Rock, and is trying to challenge Luke and Brad as a nice guy in country music.
Before we mention the music, here’s a Dave Cobb warning: Dave Cobb produces the album. In fact it was a discussion on ‘Walking the Floor’ that set the project in motion. Many of you will stop reading and listen to the album yourself. Dave has produced some of the best LPs of the decade: Chris Stapleton’s ‘Traveller’ has been his biggest commercial success, but he worked on both recent critically-acclaimed albums by Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.
Over 31 minutes, with just the final track clocking in over four minutes, Chris shows off his voice, which is reduced to harmonies and backing vocals with the Foos, and the sleek slickness of his guitar.
He has certainly learned a lot about pop songs from Saint Dave, which is evident from the sweetness and power of Sticks & Stones, the album’s opener. This one, like the tender Room 102, has Robby Turner’s wonderful pedal steel, as used on Traveller, briefly coming to the fore.
The album’s lead single was the title track, which sounds suitably Dwight Yoakam-y, given that it’s about the west coast. It also, as with a lot of the album, has hints of Steve Earle, John Mellencamp and Turnpike Troubadours. The well-placed cuss elevates the song and will be a cool live favourite.
I wonder if Chris will ‘support’ Foo Fighters in future months. ‘The Girl’s Already Gone’, which sounds like a hit song and rounds off the first side of the album, jingles and jangles like a great lost Tom Petty song, then goes all Foosian in the middle section to remind listeners of his day job.
‘Goodnight Little Rock’ is a dirty ramblin’ blues song (“And I’m never ever coming home”) which ends very brilliantly. ‘I’m Still Drunk’ adopts the same tone, with a carefree attitude to life: “Just a melody and a broken heart…I hope the bottom is the hardest part”.
‘Blow Out the Candles begins’ Side B, with some sweet chords and some more a-janglin’. It sounds like Chris recorded it under a palm tree, 80 degrees in the shade, as Chris brings the Californian spirit to Nashville. If everyone who bought the Greatest Hits of the Eagles bought West Coast Town, every fan will find something to love.
‘Cherry’ is a honkytonk stomper, with more brilliant guitar from Chris and a beat that doesn’t let up. “There’s no happy ending here for us” is the key lyric, so it’s one of those sounds-good-but-ain’t country songs. It’s also an unusual sound for Dave Cobb to produce, but as a rock guy himself who moved to country Dave finds common ground with Chris.
‘Tonight’s Not Over’ has (and I don’t even like spoiling the surprise here) a key change so subtle I had to listen back to check I had caught it. It’s another track that rollicks along nicely, using a limited palate of chords. Most of the album, in fact, is I-IV-V, the typical ‘three chords and the truth’ setting of country, but ‘Tonight’s Not Over’ has some amazing passing chords that make it sound like power-pop or Foo rock, a genre in itself.
‘Still Better Days’ has an extended guitar part at the end which fades out to force the listener to put on the album again. Live, I imagine the song will round off a wonderful set which mixes good-time songs, down-in-the-dumps songs and good ole-fashioned rock’n’roll. Chris has made the move to country successfully, and I hope thousands of Foo fans come with him.
It’s another home run for the great Dave Cobb.
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