Salt Lake seems to have a really friendly music scene. On Sunday afternoon I sat in a cafe downtown -adjoined to the quite wonderful Sam Weller Books – and logged on to the internet, wondering if I’d find a local indie record shop. My hopes weren’t especially high – I remember trying the same thing without success in both Atlanta and San Jose – but I swiftly located Slowtrain Records, which looked pretty cool and which was, conveniently, just round the corner from where I was sitting.
Downtown areas in the US often seem to me to be rather peculiar places: they share with British city centers a concentration of hotels, banks, restaurants and conference centers. But shops are hard to find, often cast out to shopping malls outside the Downtown area, or else located where you’d least expect them. Despite it’s Downtown location, Slowtrain is sat right at the end of a thoroughly suburban seeming parade of stores off to the right of the city centre. If I hadn’t known it was there, I would have stopped walking and turned back. But it was there, of course – and what a find.
Slowtrain has operated out of SLC since 2006 and little wonder it’s a success – it’s a classic independent record shop, with a great section for staff recommendations, a bunch of featured local acts (and an in-house record label) and a sizable selection of decent indie vinyl (with a nice line in heavyweight reissues). Having looked around for a few minutes, I approached the girl behind the counter and asked if she had any tips for local gigs and bars. She was really helpful, highlighting at least a show a night for every day that I’m in the city, plus a couple of good places to get a beer. What’s more, she suggested I come back that same evening for an instore and album release party by a local band, The American Shakes.
I returned at seven, to find a charmingly decked-out basement below the shop with a little stage and three rows of classroom chairs, and a bunch of locals milling around, laughing and talking.
The American Shakes are the project of singer-songwriter Brent Dreiling, with friends and other SLC scene luminaries backing him up (aren’t you always disappointed when bands turn out to be projects, rather than real bands?), something occasionally apparent when he dictates tempo to his bandmates rather than leaving it to the drummer. But their sound is integrated and full, not the weak complimentary backup that band-leaders often seem to either insist on or end up with.
Musically, they were pretty great, their sound a combination of countrified indie, bar-band rock and, most interestingly – if subtly – 60s psych, recalling at times a double-denim twist on The Zombies or the more melodic end of Nuggets-era garage. Bassist Jake Fish’ instinctive, melodic playing and some terrific pedal steel guitar playing prove real highlights.
The least convincing aspect of their performance, counter-intuitively, is Dreiling’s occasionally weak vocal projection. His voice isn’t without it’s charms – far from it – particularly on the more measured numbers, but lifting it above the fray sometimes proves difficult.
Nevertheless, it’s a show that I greatly enjoy, and I’m left with the impression that Salt Lake is probably a pretty great place to be in a band – it’s on the national circuit (Kate Nash, Ghostface Killah and The Hold Steady all play the city this week), centered round a cool record store, and seemingly pretty friendly and self-supporting, too. I’ve not, sadly, found time for another show since I’ve been here, but with luck I’ll manage one more before the weekend.
Here’s a recording I made of the band – hope they won’t mind me sharing. This song’s called ‘Tucson, AZ’.
[nb - a few days later I picked up a copy of their LP (on limited vinyl with a free CD) and it's great. Hope these guys make it over to England at some point.]