If I were to ask a large sample of the local musicians I know to list for me their top five favorite Chicago bands, The Shams Band would come back on more lists than any other act. I know this because on countless occasions I get asked this question, “Hey did you see Shams Band yet? You got to, man. They’re great!” There are two driving factors, I believe, behind this universal love. Number one, lead singer Donnie Biggins is a talent booker for House Call Entertainment (who put on some amazing shows), and two, they happen to be a really, really good group. I hadn’t heard a single note by them until the free single they released a couple weeks ago. I had some expectations because I know that they sometimes associate themselves with Dastardly, but those expectations were my own projections, and The Shams Band shattered my thoughts and molded some new ones.
Their music blends some country and bluegrass with straight up rock & roll. It’s a crowd-pleasing style that leads me to compare them to Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers with a full-time banjo player. Donnie and Paul Gulyas sing a lot about lovin’ and drinkin’, often at the same time, and their words come through sincerely. Gulyas also provides the riffs on electric guitar, and when he’s allowed to he can really soar.
The first song that caught my attention was “Breadwinner.” It’s a fast-paced tune full of swampy blues and guitar-ignited pyrotechnics. Gulyas’ vocals sound completely different on this track from anything else on the record. It’s dirty and rough as opposed to the usual smooth tone he has. The lyrics are a man’s ode to his lady bringing home the bacon, making him “nothing but a spoiled little boy.”
The following track, also by Gulyas is the complete opposite of the one preceeding it and the harmonies are heartbreaking. This time the female character is a seductress that leaves our narrator miserable. After she’s left him, he laments:
Cause there never was a reason to be evil
Darling you just do it cause you can
And this whole sad city full of fools
Just waiting to be your man
The rest of the album proves equally dynamic, featuring songs that make you laugh and cry in shifts. There’s one that I think of as a 21st century version of “Octopus’s Garden” mixed with “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” that Donnie sings called “Travel By Sea” that just puts a big grin on my face. In fact, Cold City as a whole leaves me smiling from ear to ear. It’s great to live in a city with such talented musicians, especially ones that support each other as much as I know The Shams Band does.
I wanted to keep this short because over the next month The Shams Band is playing a residency at Schubas. Starting next week they’ll be playing every Monday of July with some amazing bands (Shovels and Rope, Derek Nelson and the Musicians, Young Jesus, Young Hines, Archie Powell and the Exports). I’m checking out a couple of these shows, so I’ll be bringing you a lot more from the band in the next couple weeks. You can purchase a full 4-show ticket for only $15 or you can pick and choose for $6 per show. A word to the wise, if you do purchase the 4-pack you also get a copy of the record.