When Rees Shad began his musical journey three decades ago with the 1994 debut release, Anderson, Ohio, critics called him a “wordsmith to watch.”
It’s a reputation the remarkably prolific and eclectic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and storyteller has proudly cultivated. Shad now boasts some 30 albums, each of which reflect an unyielding combination of emotion and expression that has become the hallmark of Shad’s catalog.
With every successive outing, he has been committed to raising the bar, and his upcoming album The Galahad Blues signals a significant uptick as it may well be his most ambitious effort yet. As Shad explains in the liner notes, the songs were spawned from a musical he has been crafting for several years.
“That's how I often work, assigning myself compositional parameters and writing pieces of music that must work within those creative restraints,” he reflects. “This might be story songs in keeping with a particular writer’s style (Anderson, Ohio and on parts of Half A World Away) or songs responding to a particular production style (Truth’s Twilight), or songs that collectively describe a larger narrative arc (The Riggley Road Stories, and The Watcher).
“This approach provides me with a particular directive as I sit down to compose that is very much like a design assignment,” he continues. “It sidesteps the what-do-I-write-about-today quagmire that so often happens when one sits down each morning to compose.”
In the case of his latest offering, the process worked brilliantly, resulting in an album that reimagines the Knights of the Round Table recast as gangsters, King Arthur’s Camelot as a 1940s Chicago nightclub, and rather than focusing on gallantry and chivalry, Shad explores the potential of finding honor among thieves.
“The project has involved me wordsmithing on a whole different level as I researched and adapted the hipster language of the 1930s and 1940s to my music and lyrics,” Shad explains. “As of late, the two have been strongly influenced by the American Songbook writers I grew up listening to, like Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, and the Gershwins.”
That influence is obvious throughout, particularly in the expressive tones, dramatic arrangements, and especially in the riveting melodies that are threaded throughout the album. The production is cinematic, and for good reason. Shad’s love of film was nurtured by his parents who encouraged his appreciation of the drama and dynamic of filmmaking with particular attention to the art of story-telling overall, which he has always endeavored to incorporate into his work.
Consequently, there is a storyline to be found within The Galahad Blues that makes this part concept album, part fantasy, and, most of all, a fascinating collection embroidered with richly detailed micro dramas.
Rees and his band The Conversations (Bobby Kay, Jeff Link, & Carlos Valdez) do the primary heavy lifting in the performances here, but guests appearances by Tony Aiello (Joe Jackson, Southside Johnny) on reeds, Larry Campbell on violin (Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Paul Simon) Ira Coleman on Upright Bass (Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Sting), and Tom Major on drums (Bo Diddley, Pousette Dart), round out the production.
Rees’ last album, 6 Strings and a Story, released this past October 2023, looked back on selected songs from his prolific career, all revisited in solo, stripped down acoustic settings. American Songwriter hailed it as “a superb sampling of the skill and savvy that have been a hallmark of Shad’s career from the very beginning.”
“Ultimately, It’s all about the storytelling for me,” Shad says. “I believe the listening process should be interactive. I’m hoping to help lay the crumbs that people inevitably will want to follow… all the while striving to light up my listeners’ imaginations.”