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The Shams Band – Champagne

on September 22, 2010, 7:59am
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Let’s get this straight. The new Sufjan Stevens EP features eight songs and comes in at a whopping 59 minutes. The new record, Champagne, by The Shams Band, features nine songs, clocks in at under 29 minutes, yet is classified as an album. How do people determine what makes an EP or an album these days? It sure makes year-end lists complicated, and that’s all we really care about at the end of the day (I kid, I kid).

There’s another issue with the new album by The Shams Band. There are enough songs here for another good EP, like their self-titled debut. Unfortunately, Champagne delivers a bit of backwash by the time the proceedings reach an end. It’s not a lost cause, though, because there are certainly some gems to find within. More good news: With only nine songs, it’s not too hard to find them.

The Shams Band could have played it safe, leaning on their Americana EP for further inspiration. However, they chose to incorporate other elements to make an uneven, yet eclectic album. There’s the doo-wop mentality of “Gently” that would fit comfortably on a 1950s Letterman album. You won’t find too many songs of this ilk on many indie releases this year, next year, or the year after. In addition to the background harmonies, guitar strikes, there is the classic false stop before vocalist Donnie Biggins belts out, “On a poor fool, like, me!”, and the band re-enters the fray. It’s a moment of inspiration, bested only by the track that precedes it.

The track is “Single Man”, which lovingly borrows the guitar line from Badfinger’s “No Matter What” for its chorus. The chorus is surrounded by a nice, rumbling percussion courtesy of drummer Doug Hill, and is the standout of the album, if not the band’s small discography. Everything clicks here, from the rhythm section to the wah-wah guitar. The moment is certainly a memorable one, and shows continued promise for future records.

Tracing back, Ben White’s impressive banjo work and Hills’ tight percussion lead the band throughout the bouncy opener, “Lean Into Love”. Here’s a track that was built to be played live, and, oddly enough, it hallmarks the best work of The Avett Brothers. Or, they’ll at least come to mind. “Train on Time” retraces some of the classic rock elements found in their EP, and should be good enough to engage their audiences. However, the remaining tracks leave something to be desired.

Are they bad songs? No, just not very memorable. “We’ve Never Met” is too short to make any impression. “In the Sun” has a horn section, but a musical style that seems better suited for a late ‘90s jam band. “Blue Canal” and “Pour Me a Drink” close out the album; the former trudging along with a bluesy guitar/bass line, the latter a less-successful take on the classic Chicago blues sound. And then the it’s over. Just like that.

There are so many albums these days in dire need of editing. The Shams Band’s Champagne is just the opposite. Perhaps there were deadlines to meet, or, worse, they simply ran out of material. It’s a missed opportunity for an unquestionably talented group of musicians who could have made a big mark with a big debut. Instead, they have an EP disguised as something more, with a few good songs found once you hit play. Raise your glass of Champagne, but the cheer is only, “Maybe next time.”

“We’ve Never Met”

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