For many bands that get discovered seemingly out of nowhere, the romanticized narrative typically reads along the lines of a record label rep catching them during one of their concerts and signing them to a deal right there. For Los Angeles-based rockers The Shelters, the path to discovery came from an truly unexpected and surprising place: fellow LA resident and veteran songwriter Tom Petty. Petty happened to catch the band—which features members Sebastian Harris, Josh Jove, Jacob Pillot, and Chase Simpson—during a show and was impressed enough to give them the keys to his home studio.
That morphed into Jove and Simpson contributing to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ Hypnotic Eye and, later, Petty helping co-produce both the band’s debut EP and full-length. The Shelters have a golden opportunity this summer as they’ll be opening for Tom Petty’s band, Mudcrutch, who will be on their first national tour with sophomore album 2.
The burning question going into the album is, “Does the band’s debut live up to the hype and incredible backstory?”
Lead single “Rebel Heart,” which opens the album, immediately swings the needle to a definite “yes.” With jangly Byrds-like guitars, planking piano keys and a catchy melody that rambles along rollickingly, it’s a rock anthem that would be at home on the radio decades ago and modern enough to fit in 2016.
As a full listen through the album will attest, the band was just getting started. For the most part, the rest of the tracks on The Shelters continue the momentum. Many of the songs show off the band’s tight chemistry and skilled instrumentation as well as their ability to create catchy melodies. Petty made a career out of creating catchy three-to-four-minute songs, and many of The Shelters’ songs are in a similar ballpark, with mostly compact but impactful melodic songs that don’t waste much time.
If you like guitar-heavy rock and roll, The Shelters have you covered. There are many adjectives that could be used to describe the guitar tones scattered throughout the songs, including tough, rugged, slick and simmering. The songs at times are bluesy and anthem-esque and full of raw energy and swagger. The band’s sound successfully marries elements of ‘70s and ‘80s rock and roll with a modern flair.
The vocals on “Birdwatching” occasionally have a nasally delivery that somewhat echoes that of Petty. “Liar” also has a bit of a Geddy Lee-type sound effect on some of the vocals. That’s not to suggest the band apes off sounding like past singers, as they hold their own vocally and lyrically quite well. “The Ghost is Gone,” the album’s longest track at five minutes and 44 seconds, alternates between dusty, California sun-dried psychedelia and foot-stomping rock.
The band also shows that it can excel when it slows down. Their album includes a stunning and faithful cover of The Kinks’ “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl.” Like the original, their version is bluesy number that puts The Shelters’ vocals and excellent guitar picking skills at the forefront to create a tantalizing atmosphere, demonstrating that the band knows how to be powerfully emotionally at lower volume.
After listening to the album, it’s clear that the hype isn’t misplaced. The band has created a riveting debut that shows exactly why Petty got behind them and is now touring with them. It’s a straight-up rock and roll record that has arrived just in time to start blaring loudly on hot summer days and nights.