Longtime friend, fan, collaborator and now label mate of Shrug, David Payne of The New Old-Fashioned reflects on the history of the band and gives a track by track rundown of the new album, Easy is the New Hard.
David Payne July 2, 2019
"Oh hey man! I haven't heard this in the live room yet." That's what Dayton producer Patrick Himes said to me as he held up a copy of Shrug's 2005 opus, Whole Hog For The Macho Jesus, which he had just recently produced. He then proceeded to play the album on an entire wall of speakers at the big box guitar store we were working for at the time. I've been a die hard Shrug fan ever since.
Fast Forward a decade or so later and I would find myself on stage playing most of The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album along with Shrug as an encore to the release show for the long awaited Whole Hog follow up, Age of Ashes. A lot of those songs had already become some of my favorite Shrug songs, having been in their live set for various lengths of time. It was really great to finally have a studio recording of those songs and to get to be a part of the album's release.
Thankfully, the wait for a new Shrug album is much shorter this time around, and worth every single second! "Easy Is The New Hard," the 6th installment in Shrug's over 2 decade spanning discography is every bit as inspired and well executed as anything the band has ever recorded.
Here's a short breakdown of the album's 13 tracks, as I seem them.
Say Nothing - The first track on a Shrug record never fails to pull you in and set the mood and this defiant rocker does just that. You'll be finding yourself shouting along to the anthemic background vocals very soon.
Easy Is The New Hard - A little out of left field, the riff heavy title track lets you know early on that this isn't a seasoned band that's grown comfortable, but one that's keen on continuing to grow and explore new territory.
Halfway to Never - The guitar hero combo of Tod Weidner and Tim Pritchard is on full display on this one. Tim's beautiful melodic precision matched with Tod's reckless abandon has been an exciting addition to these two newest albums.
Her Majesty - Keyboardist Ken Hall's roll in the band has been growing steadily since his joining and his bar room piano really drives this song.
Powder - Shrug is what Dayton sounds like in my head. This one's a classic example of what I mean by that.
New Amsterdam - This sonic trip has actually been around for a little while and I've heard other versions before, but there is something very present about this particular recording. I can't help but hear it as a lullaby or a good-bye-for-now of sorts from Mr. Weidner as he starts his life away from the city and music scene he's come to define for so many of us.
Follow The Captain - A breezy nod to some of those psychedelic 60s influences.
My Little Raincloud - Another one taken from the archives that sounds just like it could've been written right alongside the rest of these songs. I can't help but think of former guitarist Eric Cassidy singing the harmony vocal on this one at some of my first live Shrug shows. I'm very happy this one found a proper home on this record.
South Side - I'll put this one up against any other song in the entire Shrug catalog. Tod's signature penchant for a wit filled turn of phrase and the most impassioned sing-along chorus help make this my personal example of a perfect rock and roll song.
Blue Blanket - Blue Blanket has been a centerpiece of Tod's solo sets for the past couple years and this trippy, reverb-laden, arrangement once again finds the band drifting into slightly less familiar territory that makes this record so interesting and dynamic.
Last Best Thing - I've got to admit another level of bias on this tune as The New Old-Fashioned was fortunate enough to get to add some background vocals. This ballad features Tod's signature acoustic guitar sound and drummer Dan Stahl and bass player Bryan Lakatos' subtle-but-funky, ever-so-slight, drag to the pocket that can only be executed well by a rhythm section that's grown so locked in together over the years.
Bender - One final song from Shrug's unreleased back catalog that gets a monstrous new arrangement and recording. The feel of this minor key narrative conjures up visions of a worn Midwesterner who finds himself in vast Western movie desert. The lyrics tell the tale of a seemingly lost and troubled individual, but it's the arrangement and production that really set the scene.
Heaven Hell or California - A more than fitting look toward Weidner's new West coast home. This track takes us out with an incredibly uplifting choral arrangement that will give you that feeling in your stomach that made you love music in the first place.
It is incredibly inspiring to me as a songwriter and musician that Shrug is still putting out such stellar new work at this point is the band's history. The songs sound as urgent and inspired as they ever have.
"Easy Is The New Hard" will be available on vinyl, CD, and all digital formats on July 6th via Magnaphone Records.