Oh my, this is good stuff: back to basics Rhythm 'n' Blues with a tendency toward traditional Negro Spirituals... and although quite acoustic, one of the must-have albums in the genre, and beyond! But, I'm running ahead of myself. First, an introduction to the band, shall we!?
At the basis of this are lead vocalist Claudius Pratt (with parental lineage goin' back to Sierra Leone, Claudius was born in London, and raised in the USA, where he met up with Gunn in New York – stage name Angeryman) and acoustic guitarist Justin Moses Gunn (son of the infamous movie actor Moses Gunn, whom died in 1993 at the age of 64 – stage name The Sandman). The twosome left New York in early 2007 for Copenhagen in Denmark and founded the Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co., recruiting Berlin born Mathias Klein (drums, stage name Colonel Taz) and Copenhagen's own Martin Olliviere (stand-up bass – stage name Silk City Kid) for the core of their band. March 2007 already saw the band's debut performance, and the guys haven't looked back since!
On March 3rd, 2009, the band self-released its debut 4-track EP Soap Box Ep (the guys were taken to call their tunes “soapbox music”, after the Sunday soapbox orators of Hyde Park in London, who have assembled at Speaker's Corner since 1872 to discuss religion, politics and other topics). For the band, the EP (produced by Angeryman himself) was a slight change in direction: primitive and grounded, and converging African polyrhythms with Punk Rock dissonance and combining Swing, Rock Steady and Rhythm 'n' Blues, the folk-tales connected seemingly disparate genres in one coherent whole. For the recordings, the band had used several guest musicians (some of which would later frequently join RSSOCo on stage): violinist Laura Marlene Diestel, backing singers Stine Ea Arbo Nommensen and Maria Rützou, and harmonica players Jan Andersen and Jenz Koudahl. The download version of the EP (still available to date) included a bonus 11-minute song, entitled “JahovaWill Destroy You”.
It took a little over two years (not much, you know, even less than a month) before RSSOCo. returned with a new recording, the 5-track EP Belligerent, and gone were the female backing voice and melancholic sounds of the violin. Enter a concept, for based on the song “Lay With Me” (which as written earlier), all songs were written in a series, revolving around a character whom finds for inner balance between narcissism and self-worth and establishing a clear line between self-destruction and pleasure. Stylistically, the EP is seen as an homage to the Swing era and its predecessors, drawing on its jubilant energy while suggesting elements of a darker nature (descriptions taken from the EPs' Bandcamp pages).
During the last winter, the Härlanga (translates as “bellevue”!?) prison in Gothenburg, Sweden was the stage for a 24-hour recordings session, during which RSSOCo.; aided by guest musicians Ayl Somonon on percussion and Yaa Kakraba on additional vocals, and old friends Jenz Koudahl and Laura Diestel (on harmonica and violin respectively); recorded a total of 13 tracks in live conditions...5 of which now constituting the first part of the Anti-Solipsism trilogy! In other words, there's a return to the band's antics on their debut release.
Not that you'd notice a lot of that on opening track “The Candidate”. Well, of course there's the influence of the harmonica, which is the main reason for the song's energetic level. A very enticing (short) song indeed but, compared to the rest of the album, this is perhaps the least interesting track on the album, vocally speaking! That changes with the ensuing “The Truth”, which not only finds Claudius in a variety of vocal modes (from lamenting in the first 2/3 of the song, to near-spoken word, over Gospel-preaching...although the latter is done by another male singer – must be, as they occur together on the album, along with some singing by a third male party, by the way), but also female singer Yaa (also lamenting in the song's first part, then into a choral mode). Second part of the song is also where Laura throws in her violin play somewhat! And all the time there's that enigmatically hypnotizing repetitive acoustic guitar, which on this track nevertheless perhaps has the most varied (and most psychedelic) job on the album. No wonder other reviewers have named this track as their favourite on the album. Still, that doesn't take away any of the attractiveness of the other songs, you know! Take the ensuing “Mrs. Brown”, with again that hypnotic acoustic guitar bringing the ground melody, the harmonica doin' lead stuff, and Claudius being aided by both a male and female singer (the first in “harmonic” mode, the second rather in “choral” mode – meaning she makes sounds, not words). “Hey Now” comes up next, with both guitar ànd harmonica (the latter less present than the first) in repetitive mood, and Claudius being backed vocally in the more energetic parts only (hard to make out whether a female is in there somewhere). Nice detail: for the last minute-and-a-half of the song (which has a total length of 5 ½ minutes), the only lyrics you'll hear are the song title's (and the lady is definitely present again, to greater overall fun and pleasure of the listener...at least, that's how I hope you may experience things!). Closing track on this album (which has a total length of just over 30 minutes), is the 10 1/2-minute long “Home”...which may be considered the “ballad” on the album, seeing as it's definitely the calmest song on the album. As instruments go, things are simplified to just drums, stand-up bass, and that repetitive acoustic guitar, which nevertheless gets a chance here to do some lead and solo parts. Vocally, Claudius kicks off the song in a calmer solo mode, and after first getting some subdued two-voiced male “backing” (which continues in that mode for the rest of the song), sets into a (let's no exaggerate) somewhat more energetic part, before falling into a subdued repetitive mode (repeating the sentence “this is the place that we call home” - with the backing singers interjecting the extra sentence “this is the place where you belong”) for the last 3 minutes of the song! Sounds like a boring thing, you say? Nah man...I mean, in those latter 3 minutes there's also some violin and mouth harmonica coming through into the music, on a very subdued level for sure, but also putting some intrigue into the whole!
If the above description is somewhat vague (?) all I can tell you is that, for sure, this band's music is something you must've heard before you can understand it! I've had the exceptional luck of being able to spend some extra time with the album, as due to several causes I was unable to get started with the review in the first place and then, having started the review earlier in the week, had a couple of days in between before finishing it. Time well spent listening to the album again and again...and it's therefore with knowledge of the effects of such a prolonged exposure to RSSOCo.'s music that I can send out this warning: when you've listened to it once, you'll wanna hear more...and more and more, until possibly you'll find yourself buying all of the band's material! Oh, by the way, in case you hadn't understood yet, this album is apparently exclusively released on vinyl (at least for the time being), and the other recorded songs will be brought on the band's second album of this year, to be released somewhere in the Fall!
Hummm...I'm taking a very positive anticipatory stance toward that event indeed! Meanwhile, let's already put “...Creatures” in my personal “Best Albums Of 2014”-lists! I hope at least sóme of you readers will do the same! Oh my...almost forgot : you can find a video for “The Candidate” at the homepage of the band's own (www.) shineonline, and in that website's “listen” section you're re-directed to the band's SoundCloud page, whereas in the “buy” section, you're directed to Bandcamp...possibilities abundant for a listening session, I dare say!