Our Shangri-La, the new album of duets from veteran Southern California country singers Rick Shea and Patty Booker not only exemplifies the West Coast's once vibrant honky-tonk tradition, it damn well resurrects a free-wheeling artistic spirit that is in danger of extinction. Recorded with an ace band and produced by Rick Shea, longtime member of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men, the album mixes brand new originals with a couple of choice old favorites into a complex and rewarding series of emotional and psychological statements - not to mention more than a few moments of smoldering erotic tension. "Our Shangri-La" draws from the Wynn Stewart-Jan Howard/Buck Owens-Rose Maddox school of California pairings even as it drives contemporary expression dramatically forward, the classic blend of standard approach and chance-taking that has always characterized California country.
The two singers boast ideal pedigrees. Booker, offspring of blue collar Okies, was born for the job: "Some people went to church on Sundays--we went to Cal's Corral," she said, referring to used car mogul Worthington's regular three-hour, live package shows. "I used to sit there at the end of the stage and look up at those people and think 'I'm going to do this
someday.'" When she started working the clubs in 1985, performers like Joe Maphis and Billy Mize were still making regular appearances, and Booker absorbed all the bandstand essentials as she developed her own considerable skills. A hard country singer and writer of the first order who counts Loretta Lynn as her biggest influence and idol, Booker's knack for biting originals and first rate vocal phrasing qualify her as one of LA's best.
The same can be said of Rick Shea, a Maryland born, San Bernardino raised singer-guitarist who came of age working six nights a week, 9 till closing, in the hardscrabble truck stops and roadhouses of the Inland Empire during the mid-1970s. "Clyde's, Loretta's, the Fontana Inn," Shea recalled affectionately. "It was hardcore...truck drivers and working girls -- a lot of Merle Haggard and a lot of George Jones." Winning the approval of those crowds meant playing it straight and from the heart, a process that has become second nature to Shea, a man whose musical approach is a low-key fusion of classic country form, one learned backing heroes such as Johnny Rodriguez and Fred Maddox.
Together, Booker and Shea evoke a honky-tonk spiritualism that is equal parts reverence and ribaldry, captured on "Our Shangri-La" in all it's gritty, down-home splendor. Nothing particularly fancy, nothing at all phony, just a wall-to-wall showcase for the pair's direct, soulful brand of hard country. It is a style loaded with authority and appeal, one that only a
couple of tenured saloon troubadours like Booker and Shea could cook up.
-- Jonny Whiteside
Fans of hard country--classic country--music need look no farther. Rick Shea and Patty Booker have avoided Nashville clichés and assembled a series of performances as genuine as chrome on a Peterbilt...or a Joe Maphis solo. Combining first-rate original songs such as "Baby That Ain't True", "Just a Matter of Time" and "Our Shangri-La" with classics such as "You Take Me for Granted", Rick and Patty have provide a terrific sample of their talent, amply demonstrating honky-tonk roots and blue-collar sensibilities. Theirs are songs rooted in real experiences, true to hard-working lives and aspirations. Best of all, perhaps, having developed mature voices in the Billy Mize-Rose Maddox tradition and phrasing to match, Rick and Patty provide cut after cut of music as different from contemporary soft country as it is evocative of the music's classic past. The songs presented by this accomplished duo are believable, varied and compelling and prove that gimmicks aren't necessary. Thanks to performers like Shea and Booker, traditional country is alive and well in California. Thank God.
--Gerald Haslam, author of "Workin' Man Blues -- Country Music in California"
The music bizniz is full of tales of injustice. Rick and Patty have paid their dues in every beer soaked, amphetamine driven, bruised knuckled, blood bucket honky-tonk in Southern California (and many more elsewhere) and they are still fighting in the barrooms for the recognition they richly deserve. Well, this strong CD should help rectify that injustice. I've been an admirer of their music and their independent spirit for many years and now it's time for the rest of the world to find out.
-- Dave Alvin