Hot Water Music - Shake Up the Shadows (Cover Artwork)

Hot Water Music

Shake Up the Shadows (2019)


The release of Shake Up the Shadows comes at a time of reflection in the storied career of Hot Water Music. Gainesville's favorite sons (although Tom Petty's estate may have something to say about that) are currently neck deep in a 25th Anniversary tour where the focus is largely on 1999's No Division and 2002's Caution. In a way, all of the trademarks from those two albums come into play to some degree on this EP: the dual guitar attacks, the ever-moving basslines of Jason Black, and the positive message bursting from the throats of co-vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard. Despite all these similarities to the classic material, one can't help but to feel this is also the sound of a band in transition.

The EP opens strong with "By Any Means", a song Ragan was inspired to write in the midst of witnessing a friend's battle with cancer. The verses feature a busy Jason Black bassline with Ragan's trademark bark soaring over the top. The band then locks in for a steamroller of a chorus featuring the line "Take on anything, by any means" and at this point, it feels as though the sins of 2017's lackluster Light It Up have been all but forgiven. The title track is up next, and I was taken a bit by surprise as it is again Ragan taking lead vocals; maybe part of me was expecting the usual Ragan-Wollard 1-2 punch to start an album. The song is definitely more in line with the more recent "straightforward" HWM sound, but it boasts another impressive bassline and nice tom work in the chorus from drummer George Rebelo that keeps things interesting.

Vocalist/guitarist Chris Wollard's role within the band has been the subject of speculation for a while now, but he makes his presence felt on "Denatured", his only lead-vocal performance on Shake Up the Shadows. Unfortunately, this song falls a little flat, and is more reminiscent of the most recent Ship Thieves album than anything else. Once again though, Black's performance stands out as a highlight. The final two songs are Ragan-fronted and tend to be on the forgettable side. "Rebellion Story", the first single, is your standard HWM "whoa"-fest that we've come to know and expect, and "Afar and Away" boasts a powerful vocal performance, but is nothing to write home about, musically.

Shake Up the Shadows shows flashes of the brilliance that sunk its teeth into die-hard fans over the past quarter century, but unfortunately, those shining moments feel a little too far between. Chris Wollard's seemingly diminishing role (and Ragan's growing one) make this release feel more "Chuck Ragan solo project" than full-fledged Hot Water Music outing. Here's to more of a "shake up" the next time around.