Anyone who has ever examined the entire catalog of Tommy Shaw's recorded career (STYX, solo, DAMN YANKEES, Shaw*Blades, etc.) would recognize that among his many strengths (remarkable vocals, brilliant guitar and amazing song structure) is his diversity.
The pint sized rocker with the gigantic sound came from the deep south of Montgomery, Alabama and made it to the big show in the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois. He has since made his mark in the Big Apple before settling down once and for all in Los Angeles.
Growing up listening to The Grand Ole Oprey to writing songs for Ozzy Ozborne, Tommy has recorded his own tracks with incredible fluidity incorporating sounds from Heavy Metal to gospel, from progressive rock to country, including elements of folk on to the blues, and just about everything in between.
So for any fans of Tommy's (especially those who favored the Shaw*Blades album HALLUCINATION) would never be more than mildly surprised that Tommy would one day record an album of "Blue Grass music."
Blue Grass is one of my less favorite styles (more palletable than hip/hop, which beats rap and industrial rock), so I held my trepidations for this recording.
I was surprised, not by the notion of Tommy recording such an album but by the quality of the album recorded.
Tommy never strays far from his natural voice (no over-wrought southern twang drenched in nasal tones) no overly-clever hokey lyrics. The album is really just a down-home country album. In fact, the album is quite reminiscent of the Shaw*Blades debut.
The lead song on the album could easily fit on his brilliant albums WHAT IF and 7 DEADLY ZENS. The title track and AFRAID OF LOVE could also nestle in among the tracks of those two records and not draw undo attention.
Most of the remaining tracks are intelligent, soulful and simply fantastic. As with every Tommy Shaw album there is always a song of average or above average quality but as with every previous solo album the entirety is just mind-blowing.
The songs SAWMILL, SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT and UMPTEEN MILES are true 1950's country music written with the lyricism of true country life with genuine country musical simplicity. Which might be why this album is regarded as Blue Grass rather than Country... because modern day country is nothing more than hillbilly wannabe pop drivel.
The biggest criticism of mine is that for some reason Tommy gave away most of the best guitar work to others, when he has proved beyond a shadow of the doubt that he himself is among the most talented of string pickers in rock and roll. While Clapton, Hendrix, Schon or Satriani might be brilliant technicians with their distinctive tones... but the greatest guitarists (Don Felder, David Gilmour, Terry Kath) are the ones who can pick up and play almost any guitar type (six-string, twelve-string, dobro, pedal steel, banjo, sitar, etc.) and make beautiful harmony with each and every one.
Considering his dobro guitar work on the DAMN YANKEES blues tunes MYSTIFIED and DOUBLE COYOTE and his mandolin work on STYX' BOAT ON THE RIVER and his own HALF A MIND (the precursor to Tommy recording a country album) I am just saddened that my musical hero gave away the solos and leads to other, lesser guitarists.
The album is chock full of brilliant songs, some mind-blowing in their structure, subject and performances... THE GREAT DIVIDE is a country album from a down home country boy. Anyone who knows the career of Tommy Shaw would not be surprised. 'Bama boy goes home. THE GREAT DIVIDE would make the ghosts of The Grand Ole Opry (Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, and others) proud. Tommy proves that roots music isn't dead... its just been buried under the crushing weight of modern day fluff.
Tommy Shaw... THE GREAT DIVIDE, the album that bridges the gap between 2011 and 1970. Thank you Tommy Shaw for expanding your artistry and stretching out beyond the parameters of past glory. This album is wonderful for all listeners, country or rock and roll.