THE SHABELLES – A Happy Man
(2006 Laundry Basket)
A name like “the Shabelles” conjures up images of 60s girl bands, some sort of imagined supergroup combining the Shangri-Las with LaBelle. So much for judging a band by its name. The Shabelles get their moniker from Adam Schabow, lead singer and writer of all tracks on their likeable debut record A Happy Man.There’s certainly an element of the sixties in their sound, but it’s of the Nuggets variety, the psychedelic garage-rock pumped out by one-hit-wonders at the end of that decade. Like those tracks, the songs on this record are adrenaline-infused bursts of pop candy, zipping by in under three minutes without leaving any aftertaste. Surprisingly, Schabow’s nasal voice, which makes his other outfit, the Kites, so hard on the ears, is actually goofily charming in this setting. Perhaps because the backing vocals contributed by Kyle Urban (the Motorz), Bob Koch (the Runners Up and many more) and the always welcome Shinky (Hazy Shade and the New Recruits-R.I.P.) buoy the songs, but it’s more likely that with thirteen tracks zipping by in under half an hour, you simply don’t have a chance to get annoyed.
Ironically, the title track is the only gloomy moment on the record. A case of wishful thinking rather than wish fulfillment, he confesses “The moment I saw you / I knew I needed you near,” but from his tone it is already clear there will be no happy ending. His admission that “your dimples swallow my heart” is especially poignant, and yeah, more than a little pathetic. The bad mood isn’t allowed to remain long. Hidden track “Just the Way Things Go” is a joyous kiss-off with all the snotty appeal of the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl,” and the gleeful “Drunken Choir” adds a stumbling affirmation; you can almost smell the alcohol on the backing vocalists’ breath.
Remnants of the hippie decade show up throughout. “Running the Bull” and “Place in the Sun” both feature Jan & Dean-style “woo-hoos” and “waa-haas” over blissful organ. “Speeding Things Up” starts off like Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” before switching gears into the Kinks “All Day & All of the Night.” Name-checking an icon of the era, the hilarious opening track has Schabow comparing his girl to “Roy Orbison.” Predictably, it is not a favorable comparison. “I got a girlfriend, she ain’t too pretty for a woman / She ain’t too pretty for a woman who likes to wear dark shades / Got a bowl haircut of a guy twice her age.” You can almost hear the smirk in his voice. And in a crowning touch, what could be more psychedelic than the Theremin, rocked convincingly by Dan Hargrove on the speeding “Airwaves?”
The clap-along, sing-along “Riding My Bike” combines everything the Shabelles do well- the bouncy tunes hiding broken hearts, the slightly off-key backing vocals- and tops it off with a saxophone solo (courtesy of Ropin’ Rodeo Nate). Much like the rest of the record it sounds as if they had a whole lot of fun recording it. And isn’t that the way it should be?