Music: The Southern Surreal – The Legendary Shack Shakers

Mars Blomgren

Mars Blomgren

Maureen "Mars" Blomgren is a writer, photographer, painter and social media overlord. Mars is a loyal servant to her Pekingese named Henry. Her work can be seen on album covers, posters, commissioned paintings, branding, merchandise and more. Mars has one of those new-fangled #blendedfamilies that she loves. Mars supports & promotes live music, animals and the truth. She is a proud Philly Girl that will defend the underdog till the end.
Mars Blomgren


Transcription of phone texts between Mars Blomgren and Col. J.D. Wilkes of The Legendary Shack Shakers. (Grammatical errors and typos included.)

August 18th 2015, 4 weeks prior to the release date of The Southern Surreal, sent from somewhere just south of Philly, Pennsylvania while pulled to the side of the road in her 1997 Ford Crown Victoria:
11:42 a.m. EST:
Mars here JD! Just got my southern surreal &loaded into my mp3 player in the car so I’d be able to listen while running my errands…i got about 5 (?) songs in while driving was already grinning ear to ear while my jaw dropped just a little more in awe of each song when “the dog is dead” came on. I shit you not when I tell you this. I’m pulled over on the side of the road cause the raw emotional power from that piece feels like you reached in my chest, yanked my heart out and punched it repeatedly before twisting it up and shoving in back in my soul. This album is destined for greatness!
And you can quote me on that shit! Can’t wait to hear the rest but I need to compose myself before driving again.

Col. J.D. Wilkes, 1:36 p.m. EST:
Aw, glad you liked it. Yeah that’s old Billy Bob Thorton speaking there. He did a great job with that. Duane Denison on guitar. Take care and enjoy the tunes!

Mars, 1:39 p.m. EST:
Awe yeah I thought that was Billy Bob!

Col. J.D. Wilkes, 8:15 p.m. EST:
They both did a powerful job. It took us all by surprise.

The Southern SURREAL boldly owns its name. You better dig your boots in the ground and hold onto the closest thing that is concrete steady. By the time Col. J.D. Wilkes and The Legendary Shack Shakers get done walloping your mind you’re gonna need a way to get a handle on the world as you’ll now see it. You’re on your own trying to figure out how to stop the endless nodding of your head that unwittingly started during the first note of the intro (‘Cow Tools’). I cannot even begin to take a guess if the wide-eyed glare of instant enlightenment that suddenly appeared on your face will ever go away. Perhaps it need not.

jd wilkes shack shakers at 100 club london

When The Chronopages received our copy of The Southern Surreal, I did not have any inkling as to how powerful, tight and beautifully artful this ensemble of music would be. About 16 months or so ago I was out supporting one of Col. J.D Wilkes’ other bands, The Dirt Daubers, looking forward to saying hello to an old friend and being able to take in the creative aura that surrounds J.D. wherever he goes.. It is always a delight talking with him about art, music, and what the next project going to be. That night this album, The Southern Surreal, was discussed; barely in its infancy. J.D.’s eyes lit up when he began to talk about 20 years of Legendary Shack Shackers and how they wanted to do something they had never done before. I’m not going to lie, at first I thought to myself, “Well isn’t this nice, the band has been together for 20 years – he’s about to tell about how they’ll be marking this timely anniversary; perhaps a greatest hits package with extra bonuses, or maybe it’ll be some deluxe edition of unreleased B-sides.” As that thought was milling through my brain I was thoroughly unprepared for what came next when the Colonel laid it all on the table. The idea for the album became a beacon in the dark of the almost empty venue. What I heard that night straight from the Colonel’s mouth seemed to me to be an undertaking of the grandest schemes possible. What followed over the next 16 months or so is nothing short of exactly what was shouted out into the universe that evening.

The Southern Surreal grabs and forces you to take a journey filled with ethereal contortions that would make Captain Beefheart stand tall. The tracks on here range from haunted church music, bluegrass, rock, punk, southern gothic, ska, country, and even spoken word. The entire release is cacogenic in nature: it is meant to cause the “normal” methods of thinking to degenerate into something other, something primal from which you cannot return. Frank Zappa and Dock Boggs inspire it, it’s a deep, murky, framework of tunes filled with Mississippi blues hooks and bizarre lyrics. You’ve got a mix of telegraph keys, ham radio mikes, talking about tales of young hearts and old souls. Code Talkers, vultures and trains. Oddfellows and child witchcraft. The Southern Surreal has it all.

Legendary Shack Shakers have been a force to be reckoned with for 20 years, their followers never quite knowing what to expect with each release, every live show or even in the visual designs by Col. J.D. Wilkes. Being an art-damaged band comes with its perks, it births music you cannot find in the mainstream with uncompromising power and gumption; but being an art-damaged band also comes with a heavy responsibility to continually create, never stop playing, never stop writing and never stop conceiving that next immense project.

Legendary Shack Shakers by Joshua Black Wilkins

Legendary Shack Shakers by Joshua Black Wilkins


For now, I am going to keep this release in serious rotation on the ’97 Crown Victoria playlist. I am a little more prepared; each time I get to the Billy Bob Thornton spoken word piece, ( The Dog was Dead; featuring Duane Denison from The Jesus Lizard), I’ll already have mapped out where I’ll be pulling over because driving while being hit with that emotional bat can be difficult, pleasurably painful to hear yet tough to drive to.

Next time J.D., how’s about giving a gal just a bit of warning.

Legendary Shack Shakers
The Southern Surreal 
(Alternative Tentacles)

  • Colonel JD Wilkes (vocals, harmonica,banjo)
  • Rod Hamdallah (electric guitar)
  • Mark Robertson (electric and upright bass)
  • Brett Whitacre (drums)
  • With guest appearances by actor /musician and longtime Shack Shakers fan Billy Bob Thornton, and Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison.

Tour dates are available from the Legendary Shack Shakers website

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