Shark Hat's self-titled debut CD is a freewheeling, genre-jumping ride through the side alleys of rootsy American rock. Funk meets fusion with undertones of jazz as they pound and roar through eleven uproarious tracks. The members of Shark Hat have been cranking out music together for seven years, but they've done it all under a different name. As Blunt Force, they've played all over the New Jersey/New York City circuit, hitting famed spots such as the Wetlands Preserve and the Lion's Den along the way, eventually stretching their sound from Vermont to San Francisco. However, after recent entreaties from The Man (read: their lawyer said another band held the copyright for the name) Shark Hat was born.
This band full of old high school and college pals boasts three powerful lead singers and two explosive lead guitarists. While the whole band writes material, their influence on each other is undeniable, as the album holds together in a cohesive sound. "Right Way" opens the CD with guitarist Enzo Ricci grunting and growling through the words like a 600-pound mountain gorilla. Funky breaks and Don Frio's sweetly-toned keyboard solo lead into the catchy hooks and macabre lyrics of "Loftus Leftus." This tale of singer/guitarist Kevin McDonald's murderous schoolmate is one of the strongest tracks on the album. The tight, twangy tone of the guitar solo builds and builds until bursting back into the song's melody. Frio then switches to a tasty retro-'70s tone for his solo, bristling and crackling as he flies through the notes.
The band switches gears as Frio takes over lead vocals for "Beautiful Thing." This instantly addictive song sounds at times like an unused Allman Brothers gem, especially when the twin guitar melodies come in near the end. The lyrics illustrate that despite their penchant for bluesy numbers, their inherent optimism always shines through. "It's a beautiful thing/You're like a desert bloom/The sun shining in my room/Through the window pane/The rainbow after the rain/An old forgotten tune/Floating on the wind/Drifting by the light of the moon."
One more gearshift and we're into the funk-infused rock of "Murphy." The end of this song pulls back into its groovy base before building back up and morphing into a huge guitar solo. Shark Hat's songs are oftentimes deceptively simple at first, revealing more complex arrangements as the tunes unfold. Just when you think you know what to expect from a song, they switch it around on you. The lyrics to "Murphy" spin the tale of a curious old character: "Cut to the old man, Murphy's the name/And he fills the role of the old codger who/Though he seems absurd/Carries a bit of wisdom to you from his lonely world/Don't mistake his front porch wisdom and his old clichés/For outdated ways of looking at things/Don't you think if they weren't just a little bit true/That shit would have just faded away?"
"Not Cryin'" is a sweetly sad tune, but once the solo starts the band takes a sharp left turn into a funkified alleyway. The whole band grooves away at once, all soloing together through an expansive jam, remaining coherent and never coming unglued. Steve Leroy's science-fiction bass lines duck and dart through the changes before settling down into a sultry groove. Michael Parillo's drumming drifts from subtle fills to pounding runs, alternately driving and coloring the sound.
Frio switches to piano for a dazzling display on "New Millennium Blues," singing "Every single night when the wind picked up/And the coals were burning on the fire/You tip your wine and you say your line/Then you smile, we sing for a while." The album propels on with the sultry Spanish skulk and slow churning groove of "Quando Sei Stanka," heading into the bluesy shuffle of "23rd & D." The rolling pop of "Any Which Way" then leads to the delicate anthemic closing number "Shakti."
Shark Hat have succeeded in assembling a disparate array of tastes into a bite-size nugget that all can enjoy. The CD captures them at their lyrical and musical best, creating pure rock 'n' roll with a raucous energy. For tour dates and sound samples, check out www.sharkhat.net.
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