You're probably already familiar with Indianapolis-based Chris Shaffer's saga – boy pays dues, band gets hit record, band sours on major label experience, boy leaves band, boy goes back to his roots – it's a textbook "Behind the Music" episode with one little difference: It ain't over yet.
Shaffer's new disc, Vim, reaffirms what made Shaffer and his old vehicle the Why Store formidable rock contenders in the first place, but with enough new wrinkles to set the singer/songwriter's new material apart. The driving swagger of "What the Hell" is bolstered by some arena-ready Edge-cum-"Alternative Nation" riff-rock guitars and lots of effects on Shaffer's voice. And let's face it, the voice is the thing here. Equal parts rumbling Lou Rawls baritone and weathered Joe Cocker with plenty of emotional Vedder thrown in, Shaffer's voice is the bedrock of the album (and this is certainly not a disparagement the other players, who provide stellar accompaniment that never flags).
Vim offers quite a bit of what drew listeners to Shaffer in the first place. The midwestern groove of "Run Around Wasted" is full of Aerosmith-styled funk and streamlined rock hooks, while a pulsing bass propels "Sooner Than Later," a tune full of several tiny explosions and a measured chorus that would've fit comfortably on a Why Store release – as would the pumping groove underpinning the moody/cranky "Stone Cold Sober." Shaffer also brings the rock with the quiet/loud dynamic of "I Want More."
But obvious departures from Shaffer's old unit lie in some of the new disc's best songs, like the bouncing, ELO-fied "Again," which crams hooks and harmonies galore into a solid radio-rock song, and the spare, haunting, Bob Seger-meets-Vic Chestnut vibe of "Departure." Though there's plenty of muscular music throughout Vim, the lyrical tone and subtle sonic mist in this song is more indicative of the album's direction.
A clear, fairly dry mix lets all of the album's instrumental flourishes shine through, especially the refreshingly earthy guitar tones. The production also serves to shine a light on every aspect of Shaffer's voice. During the closing song, "Share the Stage," you can hear every crag and pit in his weary vocal cords as he sings an evocative eulogy to what was and what could have been. It's an emotional capper to the first day of the rest of Chris Shaffer's musical life.
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