By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Inhabiting an unusual intersection of stripped-down delta blues, Appalachian bluegrass and heavy rock, guitarist Shawn James and his band the Shapeshifters deliver their swampy, explosive sounds at Thee Parkside Friday night.
Born and raised in Chicago in the 1980s, James gravitated towards the blues and soul music that permeated the history and culture of his hometown. By the time he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2012, he had already been pursuing a music career as a solo artist, releasing his acoustic blues-folk debut Shadows that same year. While that album touched on the foot-stomping style of solo John Lee Hooker while adding a contemporary twist with elements of gospel and R&B, not long after relocating, James began connecting with other musicians in his new home.
Initial recordings with the new band — christened the Shapeshifters — would flesh out the acoustic-blues palette that James started with, adding banjo, fiddle and mandolin to the songs heard on their trilogy of EPs (The Wolf, The Bear and The Hawk) that came out over the next year. A collection of covers released in 2014 hinted at the breadth of the band’s influences, putting their own distinctive stamp on tunes ranging from blues standards to newer folk tracks to unusual versions of songs by R&B favorite John Legend and metal giants Iron Maiden.
With the band’s 2015 album The Gospel According to Shawn James & the Shapeshifters, the group would craft a far heavier sound. While still incorporating fiddle and banjo, the group amped up the electric guitar and muscular riffs on songs like “No Gods” and “Just Because.” James switched back to his moody acoustic mode for last year’s On the Shoulders of Giants, but this current tour with the Shapeshifters will find the guitarist and his band cranking their amps to 10 for an electrifying night of music. For this show at Thee Parkside, the group shares the stage with headlining Reno, NV-based roots rock band Hellbound Glory, country rocker Shelby Cobra and opening local punk outfit I, Madman.
Shawn James & the Shapeshifters with Hellbound Glory
Friday, June 9, 9 p.m. $10