If you’re looking for clues as to what makes the Legendary Shack Shakers so bizarre, start with this album’s sixth track, “Somethin’ In The Water”. Over a junkyard jumble of honking saxes and plonking piano, baritoned lead singer Col. J.D. Wilkes spins a tale of uranium dust, hydrogen bombs, and elbows sprouting tiny fingers. When he growls “They put somethin’ in the water/Somethin’ weird in the water,” you can’t help but feel that he’s in a position to know. And, based on this utterly insane amalgamation of styles that shouldn’t go together but somehow do, the water has messed these guys up good.
The Shack Shakers bill themselves as specializing in a country substrain self-described as American Gothic. If that means nothing to you, imagine the Butthole Surfers as an inbred, Tom Waits-fixated jug band. Pandelirium, the Shakers’ third full-length, starts out dementedly enough, with “Ichabod” blending fever-dream klezmer, spaghetti-westernized country, and spirit-of-’81 hardcore. What unfolds from there is jaw-dropping. “Bottom Road” offers a southern-fried take on Ministry-brand industrial mayhem, “Iron Lung Oompah” dishes up tuba-powered hillbilly hot jazz, and “No Such Thing” rides hell-bent for a land where “Rawhide” is the unofficial national anthem.
Just when you think it can’t possibly get any truer to its title, the album wraps up with “Nellie Bell”, a swooning graveyard waltz seemingly sung by the ghosts of a dozen Country Dick Montanas. There might very well be something weird in the Legendary Shack Shakers’ water, but one listen to Pandelirium and you’ll be wanting to take an swig.