Joey Shaker

Common Era Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time I'm listening to a disc from an independent or an unsigned band, I try to give them as much leniency as possible and not come off as sounding like a crusty old stodger. (I don't know why I bother; chances are when my daughter is a teenager, her friends are going to think I am anyway.)

Take Joey Shaker, for example. While I am not the biggest fan of contemporary Christian music, I kept listening to their album Mankind to find just one more bright spot I might have missed. In the end, it worked, to a point. Mankind does have some serious flaws, but this quartet does dare to approach religion in songs by not hitting the listener over the head with the message.

The group - vocalist Joe Santora, guitarist Sean Tuohy, bassist Peter Zaage and drumer Dennis DeRado - have as much of a jazz influence in their music as good ol' rock and roll. They are just as comfortable whipping out the Rolling Stones - as they do with their cover of "Fingerprint File" at the end of the album - as they are working on complex rhythms.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Mankind seems to be a religious album that is willing to meet listeners half-way. Although the disc (at least my copy, anyway) doesn't come with lyrics, only about half of the songs seem to have a directly religious message to them. And even there, with rare exception, Joey Shaker doesn't try to shove their dogma down your throat. This, frankly, is a welcome surprise; once I saw the dedication in the liner notes, I was fully prepared for this to be a Sunday school lesson put to music. Even tracks like "I Daniel", which I found to be more religious than secular, were enjoyable.

Mankind, however, shows that Joey Shaker has three main areas they have to work on. First, Santora is not the strongest lead singer in the business - and something tells me that he would agree with me in this regard. Granted, the more you listen to the disc, the more Santora seems to fit with the music, but it's a long time before you get accustomed to his hoarse delivery. Second, Joey Shaker needs to add harmony vocals to the mix; when background vocals are added to the mix, staying exactly in tune with the main melody leaves things sounding very flat.

Third - and this is the biggest point of contention I have - is that much more musical development needs to take place with this band. For well over half the album, the instrument I found myself connecting with most was the bass guitar, and while Zaage's playing is good, I should have found myself focusing in on the guitar. Tuohy is a decent jazz riff player, but overall, the guitar lacks bite. Possibly adding a second guitarist to handle rhythm chores - freeing Tuohy up to trip the jazz strings fantastic.

While Mankind showcases a band in development, tracks like "Carousel," "Shifty Eyes" and "Take It Or Leave It" suggest that Joey Shaker has potential. While the band has some big obstacles to overcome, something tells me they can do it. Until that happens, though, Mankind is a portrait of a band in flux - but the more you listen to it, the clearer the picture becomes.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Common Era Records, and is used for informational purposes only.