The Shamus Twins – Garden of Weeds (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

Equal parts Summer of Love songcraft and heartland soul, the Shamus Twins’ Garden of Weeds is as apt to jangle as it is to twang. That’s reflective of the Los Angeles-based band’s founders, guitarist Jerry Juden and bassist Tim Morrow, two halves of the same genre-busting whole.

They take turns with songwriting duties, recalling the long-ago heyday of the John Lennon-Paul McCartney partnership. But the Shamus Twins don’t stick to the Fab template for long. They are old school, but not unaware of what came after. So while there is a heaping helping of shimmering power pop on Garden of Weeds, the Shamus Twins also bring along a uniquely American garage-band aesthetic.

That makes for an interestingly restless amalgamation, with detours into the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, Neil Young, the Hollies and later jangle-pop descendent bands from the 1980s. Yet, for all of that looking back, the Shamus Twins’ lyrics remain steadfastly in the moment, and completely of their time.

Juden’s Byrds-influenced title track, for instance, speaks to the ennui associated with a consumerist society that only wants what it can not quite grasp: “I work for so hard,” he sings, “but there is still so much I want.”

“You Know My Name,” a song by Morrow with a sizzling solo by second guitarist Dino Lambropoulos, smartly references the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” even while copping to the Shamus Twins’ anachronistic throwback attitudes: “Not young and I must admit, I won’t be on any covers,” Morrow sings.

The Shamus Twins then dive head-long into the Stones-inspired “I Never Been Happy,” unleashing all of that band’s most familiar elements – a loose guitar groove, gnarly Keith Richards-ish vocal and darkly intriguing lyric. That juxtaposes well with the country-rocking “Ain’t Letting Go” which sounds like Buffalo Springfield on a honky-tonk holiday.

They return, it seems, most often to the Beatles. Morrow, whose vocals mimic the rock and roll whine of a youthful John Lennon, clearly shares a passion with Juden for ’60s-era mop-topped beatitude. Yet even as the Shamus Twins’ clearest, most direct influences trace back to the British Invasion, Garden of Weeds keeps bringing in subsequent sounds. There are notable complexities just below the surface.

“Did You Have to Change,” the only tune on Garden of Weeds co-written by both Juden and Morrow, takes flight behind the Fabs’ familiar intertwined vocals and nifty song structure. But Juden’s too excitable to provide counterpoint melodies as sweetly complimentary as Paul McCartney’s, and that’s a good thing.

Morrow’s “Life Is Strange,” this power-pop gem, adds a yelping sneer and post-modern lyric in keeping with the retro-cool of ’80s bands like the dBs and R.E.M. Juden’s tough “Beyond You,” a tightly wound Hollies-inflected revenge song, is scuffed up with this crunchy, coiled guitar. Morrow’s “Don’t Cry to Me” and “I Know I Know,” a stalker tune by Juden, both have the clean percussive vibe of early post-punk.

A closer listen to “I Know I Know” uncovers a bridge bolstered by the joys of ’60s-era girl-group harmonies. Juden’s “A Picture of Her” again neatly recalls the driving Rickenbacker folk rock of Roger McGuinn, then stirs in some a sun-drenched harmony straight out of the Beach Boys.

It’s that kind of recording, with an itchy creative spark.

“We do what we want,” the band says on a blog post introducing this CD. “We’ll never be famous anyway.”

That could change if the Shamus Twins keep putting out albums as consistently entertaining as the tuneful and engrossing Garden of Weeds.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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