Something magical happens when David Johansen and the Harry Smiths take on old-time blues and folk songs. Shaker is every bit the equal of their first, eponymously titled disc, maybe even better -- though when music is this good, such comparisons become meaningless.
Johansen is a great folk-blues singer in the same way Bob Dylan is, though the two sound neither alike nor like the source singers from whose dusty 1920s/30s 78s they get their material or take their inspiration. Like Dylan, Johansen finds a way into the heart of a song and transforms it into something so distinctive and personal that comparisons to the original are rendered irrelevant. This is saying a lot when one considers that the originals are classic recordings by Furry Lewis, Tommy McClennan, Son House, Muddy Waters, and other giants of the blues at its most intensely rooted.
The Harry Smiths help make all this possible via creative, rhythm-driven, mostly acoustic grooves, grounded in tradition yet standing somewhere outside, above, and around it. Together with Johansen's heart-wrenchingly expressive vocals, alternately angry or morose or sardonic, they take the songs and the listeners to a place they have never been before.