rootsy road trip

The Shivers (Restless)
The Shivers

By Jeff Walter

The Shivers' twelve-song debut opens with the tail end of a comment — "... but he is American (as) can be" — from singer/guitarist Carey Kemper, caught in mid-conversation. Who could the subject be? Johnny Cash? Bruce Springsteen? Hank Williams? Perhaps Kemper is talking about himself.

This self-titled disc, released, appropriately enough, on the Restless label, is a rootsy blend of folk, country, rock and blues. Sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric, these are simple songs that evoke lonely images of trains, dusty roads and deserts. On this album, it seems that everyone is either leaving, dreaming of leaving or is in the process of being left. The road is always beckoning, even when its destination is unknown.

The Shivers' instrumentation is basic: guitar, bass, drums. (According to the liner notes, Kemper also plays violin, but it must be very subtle violin.) Lead vocal duties shift between male (Kemper, who also plays lead guitar) and female (bassist Kelly Bell, also Kemper's wife). Songs are written individually by Kemper, Bell and non-bandmember E. Ann Powell.

The first several songs are standouts, each musically different from its predecessor. Kemper handles vocals on the quietly desperate "Silver City Train" ("I got married/I got a family/I love them more than I love me/My little girl, she was seventeen/She bought her ticket and followed her dreams"). Bell sings lead on the slightly Byrdsy "Rivers," with some superb backing from Kemper.

"Almost Gone" is folkish Husker Du without the distortion. The two singers harmonize on the foreboding "Never Leave Nevada." On "Heart of Texas Blues," Bell's vocals suggest a world-weary Wynonna-Janis hybrid. On the latter tune, drummer Christopher Wolff and bassist Bell lay down a rock-solid bottom, while Kemper's cutting guitar adds punctuation to Bell's lamentations.

Several songs have the potential to be hit singles. On the driving, melodic "Rivers," Bell pleads, "When the rain on your body is your lover's sweat/Can you taste the salt or do you only feel wet?/Why don't you lick your fingers and see?" "Love Other Gone" suggests the Gin Blossoms fronted by a woman. Kemper's "Good As Things Are" would sound just fine on the radio.

If you buy the Shivers on CD, be sure to make a copy for your car tape player. Then go for a long drive. You might not want to come back.