No Way Back
by Michele DeVinney
For my money, Chris Shaffer’s voice was always the best thing about the Why Store. The songs were good, the band was talented, but it was Shaffer who really provided the sound that made it all work. I was always pretty certain that whatever he decided to do without the band that put him on the map would have to be at least as good as what he did with them since he was the driving force and biggest draw for me, anyway. But then again, I thought the same thing about Lionel Richie.
Fortunately, this time I was right. No Way Back is an engaging collection of songs, all of which nicely showcase the earthy, almost sonorous Shaffer vocals. The opening title track alone is an excellent example of what he has to offer, so good that I feared he’d used his best track first. I needn’t have worried. Turns out the CD is fairly loaded. And “No Way Back” might not even be the best performance. “Lazy River” and “Ballad of Lightning” are songs that wouldn’t allow me to use them as background music. The latter, particularly, made me stop in my tracks, in fact.
What really distinguishes Shaffer Street from the Why Store, and adds to the appeal, is the featured vocals of Heather Shaffer, Chris’s wife and a pretty great singer in her own right. Her background vocals on several of the cuts, especially “Got That On Me,” give a great counterpoint to Shaffer’s lead vocals, complementing them and providing a distinctiveness, as well. Where she really shines is on the songs where she shares lead vocals with her husband. “Brace Me” and “Extra Mile” perfectly allow the couple show off their seamless, bluesy blend.
As usual, Shaffer writes songs that never overpower the vocals — understated without being simplistic. And Why Store fans will be happy to know that a couple of the cuts – “”Love Breaks Down” and “Walking Shoes” – are each cowritten with one of his former compatriots. Of course, they may be happy enough to know that the Why Store are performing again and with any luck will record again someday, too. But as long as there’s Shaffer Street, I think Chris Shaffer will be in pretty good shape. He’s going to produce some good stuff with or without the Why Store. I do think he should hang on to the wife, though.
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