The Jazz Butcher: Shakey
It seems amazing to me that twelve years elapsed between Rotten Soul and Last of the Gentleman Adventurers, the crowd-funded album that Pat and Max put out in 2012, but it’s true. The interim saw live action from Wilson, of course, and a couple of compilations, Cake City (2001) and The Jazz Butcher’s Free Lunch (2003), and also Pat continued gigging fairly frequently, often solo, sometimes with pre-recorded backing tracks, in Northampton, Oxford, and London. He had been performing some of the songs on Gentleman Adventurers since around 2005 (‘Shame About You’ and ‘Shakey’), so it was clear that he hadn’t gone away.
While parts of Rotten Soul (‘Mister Siberia’ and ‘Tough Priest’ especially) had sounded like Wilson tunes, Gentleman Adventurers forges a more coherent sound, outlook, and aesthetic, while being as musically wide ranging as any previous Jazz Butcher album. It’s an album full of contempt for a risk-averse culture; as the sepia tinted cover might suggest, it’s an album of tobacco stains and wine stains. I hesitate to say ‘maturity’, because that word has come to suggest a kind of easy-listening a-dolt-orientated-rawk; perhaps it’s better to say this is the Jazz Butcher’s ‘late style.’ The sound is fittingly acoustic, but avoids the clichés of the ‘unplugged’ era, and allows effects and electric guitars their place.
‘Shakey’ doesn’t, strictly speaking, have someone’s name in the title, but for my purposes today, nicknames are allowable:
‘Shakey’ takes Brian Wilson as its emblem of a life lived to the full, or indeed to overflowing, but it begins with a glance at Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’: ‘There is a town in north Ontario’ is a direct lift, and the chords are similar. I’m not sure quite how much we’re supposed to bring Young’s song into play; for me the reference to north Ontario links into ‘You wouldn’t last an hour out there’, to suggest a brutally cold world as the frame for everything else that happens. That’s not how Young’s song sees the town, which is an idyllic place he returns to in memory and imagination. Is ‘Shakey’ stripping the romantic gloss from Young’s song, and finding an altogether more brutal and degraded world: ‘a father battering on his son’, and chopping out his Class As on the kitchen floor. What’s great about this lyric is the way it plays off our expectations about the magic things that Brian Wilson did musically against his distinctly un-magical and disorderly private life. Do the magic things come at a cost? A cost of being considered scum by someone? A cost of personal loss. ‘Walk away, you can’t afford it.’