SHOT TO HELL – Waking Up
(2006 Quadra Recordings)
Written by John Payne
LaCrosse-based alt-country band Shot to Hell’s EP, Waking Up, is the perfect soundtrack for a round of whiskey shots. Like the early work of Uncle Tupelo, the disc’s opener and apparent theme, “The Ballad of Shot to Hell,” is a great combination of country twang and punk rock swagger. It’s a brief story about the band playing in a bar; you can almost taste the booze when singer/guitarist Aaron Monte sings with hilarious self-deprecation, “All the people at the bar / They don’t give a damn who they are.” That hazy feel is maintained with the twangy and trippy dual guitar leads that fill out the latter part of the song. Monte claims his band is “playing some songs / You won’t hear on the radio.” If there’s any justice, that won’t always be the case.
Though the five songs on this EP are based on relatively simple chord progressions, the work of Monte and guitarist Jon Nygren keeps everything interesting; they frequently toss out great ad-libbed fills and lead lines, often weaving their two parts together while the steady rhythm section of Brian Stehula and Jack Nachtman keeps the songs grounded and your head bobbing.
For the first part of the title track, the song rolls out its ambling guitar lines slowly and insistently sounding a bit like a Meat Puppets cover from Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album (with some electric guitar thrown into the mix). In contrast, the chorus is punchy and energetic with almost AC/DC-like power chords. It sounds great, although it’s too repetitive to justify its six-and-a-half minute length.
The best song on this EP is probably “Things Might Improve,” a gritty-sounding, almost grunge-like rocker that recalls Crazy Horse and offers some great, dirty guitar leads. “There’s only one motivation to keep you tryin’” sings a weary-sounding Monte. When Nygren’s gorgeous steel guitar enters to lend the chorus some depth and texture, you realize what an awesome song you’re hearing. It’s heavy, too, as the lyrics find Monte eavesdropping on some people who are down on their luck: “There’s always one too many drunkards / Sitting at the bar / They’re always talking about all the reasons / They’re down and out.” Both Monte and the barflies “cling desperately” to hope that things might improve.
The EP’s final song, “Hear it Again,” is a simple, major-key sing-along that manages to sound both upbeat and melancholy at the same time, showcasing more of Nygren’s beautiful slide guitar work and Monte’s excellent lyrics: “Four-thirty a.m. / The bed’s empty and you’re not home / You told me why you had to go / I wanna hear it again.” When approaches the end, the song and album fade away with Monte repeatedly singing “I wanna hear it again.” So will you.