Middleton-based Flame Shark picked up and moved south of the state line to Chicago a little more than a year ago, and currently live together and practice in a house in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. The laid-back vibe of the group's latest album Raw Flowers sounds as if the band -- songwriter/guitarist Justin Jahnke, bassist Mike "Goldenwings" Meske and keyboardist Rusty "LaRue" Lee -- had moved much further south, where the summer heat keeps life from always moving as fast.
Jahnke came to the Madison area from Louisiana, so Flame Shark's sound has always had some Southern roots. This time around, the band took the extra step of recording the basic tracks for Raw Flowers live during a 20 hour session at Piety Street Recording in New Orleans. "We wanted to capture a sort of anticipatory feeling, the feeling you might have at dusk before the night falls and you begin a new adventure," says Jahnke. "I used a lot of imagery from my days in Baton Rouge to center myself within the vibe and the songs, sitting on a porch swing watching the rush hour traffic go by on Lee Drive, drinking a Beam and Coke, chatting with the neighbors, seeing the neighborhood dogs running around, feeling the breeze blow through the plantain trees in my yard. So that was the basis for the imagery, but we wanted to also capture the feeling of a dirty, grungy party."
Flame Shark's latest would be played at a pretty mellow party, as much of the disc features a low-key sound, and often slower tempos; the simplest reference I can think of to compare it to musically is a cross between the mellower side of the early Flying Burrito Brothers and the instrumentation of the Allman Brothers Band, but with the country soul of both bands fully intact (and a bit of Missourians Ha Ha Tonka thrown in as well). Nine tracks fill the album's 40 minutes or so, giving the songs enough room to develop fully but not overstay their welcome; there's little extended jamming to be found on Raw Flowers.
Helping immensely to give the album a fully realized sound is a cast of additional players assembled by the band for overdubbing sessions, including horn arrangements by Chicagoans Doug Corcoran and Robert Collazo. "They came into the studio in Chicago (Rax Trax) and played the parts based on charts they wrote. They never rehearsed with us and I haven't seen them since because they're so busy making music," Jahnke says. "We hope to get them back for some live shows."
Other major contributors include drummer Doug Gay, who had played in past projects with Jahnke in Baton Rouge. "He's a real cat, lemme tell you. His drumming and his laid back attitude made a huge difference on this record," Jahnke says. Elkhorn pedal steel player Jory "Catfish" Simmons, who has played on all of Flame Shark's recording projects, is also back for Raw Flowers.
The slow-building "Moving On" opens the disc, with a nearly sea-chantey rhythm and start-stop dynamics building tension very successfully. Simmons' steel guitar effortlessly floats in and out of the bed of organ holding down the basic chords in the background, and the resigned anger of the lyrics telling just enough to make the listener wonder what situation the singer is leaving behind.
An MP3 of "Moving On" is available in the related downloads at right. More music by Flame Shark, as well as a video about making the Raw Flowers album, is available on its MySpace page. Jahnke says the band is currently working on setting up a Madison show for February.
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