Paul Westerberg - Dead Man Shake (as Grandpaboy) (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Paul Westerberg

Dead Man Shake (as Grandpaboy) (2003)

Fat Possum

There's a wonderful, low-fi simplicity to early rock and roll that's been lost in a lot of today's music. Paul Westerberg's Grandpaboy is one of the few modern acts from a rock background that has been able to successfully capture that sound without sounding derivative, ironic or blatantly nostalgic. Dead Man Shake is an album of material that could have been written in the 40s and 50s, filtered through the lens of early garage and punk.

While Westerberg's clean and sober solo outings have largely split the opinions of old time `Mats fans, the Grandpaboy releases continue to revive the sloppy revelry The Replacements were celebrated for. If you fail to see the charm in dirty old blues standards recorded in a single "warts-and-all" take, you're missing what makes Dead Man Shake so enjoyable.

It's not hard to see where Westerberg's influences are here, as tracks like "Get A Move On" could have been a long lost Rolling Stones tune. You can hear the imprints of blues legends tunes like "Take Out Some Insurance" and "Natural Mean Lover." There's a batch of respectable covers as well, including John Prine's "Souvenirs" and a trembling version of the Sammy Davis Jr. standard "What Kind Of Fool Am I." Westerberg even picks up a slide guitar for a wailing version of Hank Williams Sr.'s landmark "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." My favourite tracks on Dead Man Shake are the original compositions, particularly the shuffling Minneapolis anthem "MPLS" and the delta-blues drug tale "O.D. Blues." The highlight of the record is "Vampires & Failures," a haunting and infectious tune that's one the best of the year.

Dead Man Shake doesn't fall into the trap of being a low-appeal side project simply because it doesn't carry Westerberg's name on the cover. This holds up well to anything he's recorded in his solo career and is a fun, loose record in a year that's been filled with heavy, self-important releases. It's great that Fat Possum's behind this, because it fits in perfectly with the label's bare-knuckle blues sound.