The self-titled debut album from Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants shows a new, perhaps unexpected side of the longtime Foo Fighter lead guitarist: his skill at writing slightly dialed-down, infectious Americana-laced rock songs. The album is chock-full of soulful pedal steel- and twang guitar-accented songs steeped in his longtime appreciation of classic country artists (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams), rockabilly (Gene Vincent, Elvis, Eddie Cochran), and deep-rooted rock bands (The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, X). Built around Shiflett’s innate pop sensibilities and punk enthusiasm, each track reveals new layers on repeated and ever rewarding listens.
Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants sets aside Shiflett’s big guitar sound played through a distortion pedal and a loud amp in favor of twangy electric guitars and his beloved Martin acoustic. The album highlights his versatility and skill not only as a guitarist – showcasing his deft playing in an entirely new light – but also as a songwriter: the songs are some of the best, most realized that he’s written. Lyrically, the songs frequently deal with loss…Loss of love, as in the soulful, heavy, ballad-esque “God Damn;” in the chiming keys and buoyant, ringing guitars that belie the crestfallen relationship-gone-wrong of “Get Along;” and in the pedal steel, mandolin, and evocative guitar solo that underline the heartache on “Bandaged”…Or of life, as in the stirring, bluesy groove of “An Atheist’s Prayer;” the rueful slide guitar, country swing of “Death March;” and the spry, jaunty, Old 97s-ian “Baby, Let It Out.”
For Shiflett, also known for his two albums with rock/punk project Jackson United, the formation of The Dead Peasants can be traced back to preparation for a 2008 performance at the Hootenanny, a punk-rockabilly festival in Orange County, CA. A short while after, friend Joey Cape (of Lagwagon) asked him to open on an acoustic tour, for which Shiflett re-worked a few older songs for a more intimate setting in addition to some cover songs (such as this album’s “Burning Lights,” which Joe Strummer plays in the 1990 Finnish movie I Hired A Contract Killer). Inspiration struck throughout this process and he began writing the songs that would make up Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants over the course of 2008/9.
The album was recorded in December 2009/January 2010 at the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 in Los Angeles, CA, with house engineer John Lousteau, who both engineered and handled the drums. Shiflett called upon friend Derek Silverman to play keyboards and the trio would become the core band for the recordings. Once the basic tracking was done, various instrumentation was added by a select group of esteemed players, including Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and The Imposters, Jenny Lewis, John Hiatt) on bass, Greg Leisz (Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown) on pedal steel, Stevie Blacke (Beck, Weezer, Colbie Caillat) on violin and mandolin, Eddie Perez (Dwight Yoakam) on guitar, and Audra Mae on backing vocals.
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