CD Review: Rick Shea – Sweet Bernardine (Tres Pescadores, 2013)
It’s been four years since this Southern California roots musician released Shelter Valley Blues, and he’s evidently spent the time touring and developing original material for this new album. Titled after Shea’s childhood hometown of San Bernardino, the album spends time with both family and local lights, sketching a biography that recounts experience, history and legend. Shea’s first-person narratives are sung in present tense, but filled with the considered detail and romanticism of retrospection. His images of an East L.A. musician’s lodging provide a noirish setting for “Mariachi Hotel,” and the true headlines of “Gregory DeFord” are turned into an elegy that’s as much for all those crushed by the recession as for the title character. The album includes low blues, folk and honky-tonk, all sung in an unassuming delivery that leaves the lyrics to do the work. The backings generally stick to acoustic textures, but the title track does bust out a compelling electric guitar solo. Shea’s storytelling shows Merle Haggard as a primary influence, but it’s clear that he’s also connected with contemporaries like Dave Alvin, whose King of California pairs very nicely with this new album.