The Shams have a lot going for them on the surface — namely, a sense of style that cannot be denied. The cover of the group’s debut CD, Take Off, is perfectly poop-colored vintage brown and features a picture of a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Every effort has been made to give the appearance that this is an old garage-rock record, from the “hi fidelity stereo” announcement placed at the top, to the message “Studio recorded in the United States of America” splashed across the bottom. What’s impressive is the extent to which Take Off lives up to this posturing.
A motley foursome from Cincinnati, Ohio, the Shams — Zach Gabbard, Chad Hardwick, Adam Wesley, and Keith Fox — make almost frighteningly authentic ’60s-style garage-rock. Think of the sweat-drenched vocals of a Them-era Van Morrison or early Mick Jagger mixed with the jovial sloppiness of the Troggs and the wild energy of the 13th Floor Elevators, and you’re starting to get the idea.
There are so many musical details on Take Off that are dead on the money that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Is it the driving organ line on “Scream My Name”? The paranoid guitar solo that closes “1/2 Past 12”? (Can a guitar sound paranoid?) The edgy, blues-tinged piano on “Me No More”? Gabbard’s earthy, in-your-face vocals?
It’s even more difficult to pick a favorite track. “Scream My Name” teems with wild, youthful energy that is barely reigned in by Fox’s simultaneously steady and fit-inducing drumming. And what is a macho rock ‘n’ roll album without a kiss-off song? “Get Out My Life Woman” is as fine a one as any recorded by the Shams’ forefathers, complete with handclaps, a spooky, shambolic bridge, and to-the-point lyrics like, “Get out my life woman / ‘Cause you don’t love me no more”.
Anyone worried about the future of rock will take comfort in hearing the Shams. Take Off proves what some of us have known all along — that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t dead, but has merely gone underground.