Album Review

Elvie Shane - Damascus

In his commitment not to judge but to document, Shane has produced an impressive record that may not last as long as the city it's named after, but will remain relevant longer than its controversial contemporaries.

Album - Elvie Shane - Damascus
April 18, 2024 11:04 am GMT

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Elvie Shane - Damascus

Label: Wheelhouse Records

Producer: Oscar Charles

Release Date: April 19, 2024

Tracklisting:

1. Outside Dog
2. What Do I Know
3. Jonesin’ (feat. Jenna McClelland)
4. Baptized
5. Forgotten Man
6. Pill
7. 215634
8. Appalachian Alchemy
9. First Place (feat. Little Big Town)
10. Winning Horse
11. Fan On High
12. Chicken Shit
13. Does Heaven Have A Creek

For an album named after the story of a complete conversion – that being Paul the Apostle, who turned from persecuting Christians to joining their ranks – Elvie Shane’s sophomore record is far more conciliatory and nuanced in the treatment of its subjects than you’d expect.

Damascus is a solid collection of story-led songs about the experience of blue-collar, American life that spans sonically from country funk to heartland rock. It avoids dropping into a spiel of angrily self-stoked prose seen in recent tales of working-class tribulations by allowing itself to buoy both the pain and the pleasures of those who live it.

Take ‘What Do I Know?’, which gives the soapbox a break in a refreshing veer away from the tribal division of 2024, something thats led by those who believe that they do, indeed, know everything. “What do I know? I’m just the hard-working, beer drinking son of an average joe,” he laments. The echoey keys that follow each chorus, sounding like they’re being played inside a ghost train that’s seen better days, drive the unsettled feeling he describes, as his country fellows find themselves increasingly divided on their reading of American ideals.

On the same side of the “life is pain” coin, we have the Springsteen-esque ‘Forgotten Man’. “Daddy spent his whole life working for a dollar, name on his patch worn like a badge of honour, sent me off to school, tried to turn me to a scholar, can’t unpaint the blue of my collar,” he howls, showcasing his sophisticated yet snaking lyrical pen. Elsewhere, he confidently commands his voice on ‘Outside Dog’, injecting it with animalistic bite, snarls and lip trills, whilst album highlights ‘Pill’ and ‘215634’ delicately humanise those who rarely receive such treatment as the addicted and incarcerated.

‘Fan On High’ and ‘Chicken Shit’ infuse deserved lightness into stories of economic woe. The former marries Elton John jukebox piano with laid back twangs of country funk, the sort that’ll already have you thinking of Jerry Reed even before Shane name checks him, whilst the latter struts to the beat of its own levity.

Shane is best as the angry storyteller, the guttural stamp in his voice and the flourish in his quill bringing ferocious songs to life. This does mean that some of the album’s tamer moments, like the sentimental ‘Baptized’, sound weak in comparison. Still, the album moves quickly on, all before coming to a shuddering halt on closer ‘Does Heaven Have A Creek’. From the scrapyard to the graveyard, it paints a watered down picture where even the roughest and toughest just want to be coddled into their final resting place.

Damascus is the oldest city in the world, and one that has seen more conflict than most. In his commitment not to judge but to document, Shane has produced an impressive record that may not last as long as the city, but will remain relevant longer than its polemical contemporaries.

7.5/10

Elvie Shane’s 2024 project, Damascus, is available everywhere on April 19 via Wheelhouse Records.

For more on Elvie Shane, see below:

Written by Holly Smith
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