Shoebox Letters

The Alternate Root

(Shoebox Letters from the album  Buckle Up) - Buckle Up is album number eight for Northwest (Oregon, Washington)-based Shoebox Letters. The album features Shoebox Letters brand of rolling Americana and Roots music, spreading gently over melodies that stage a goodbye (“Now I See”), scratch backyard chords and rhythms (“California Heals”), and honky tonk country rock (“It Is Where It Is”). Buckle Up showcases the songs of Dennis Winslow (vocals, guitar), his stories laying down on beds of pedal steel, mandolin and banjos rock and country weaving throughout Northwest Americana.

 

Buckle Up dips its title track into Classic Country for a banjo hayride on a rough road overshadowed with storm clouds. Shoebox Letters give a community shout of “Buckle Up” to make the way through the tough times. “Thunder Fire” puts a rumble in its heavy bass line, rattles rubbery rhythms through “Hard Times” as “Me Too” slowly unfolds the tale of two sharing the leaving of love. Shoebox Letters let hope ask for “One Minute More” as a last chance while vocalist Daria Chick takes the microphone for heartbreak with “Here I Am”.

 

No Depression

Shoebox Letters
Honest Truth
(independent)

Shoebox Letters have established a tidy little enterprise over the course of their six albums, a quality-guaranteed trajectory that encapsulates country rock, Americana and bluegrass in the form of a collective with a steady sway and unblinking devotion to craft. This latest effort continues in that same spirit, but also ups the ante in terms of song craft and delivery. There are numerous talents at work here, with no less than four vocalists contributing to the mix and a veritable arsenal of back porch instrumentation. The songs are striking -- “Another Heartache,” “Honest Truth” and “Desperate Days” among the many -- and chief songwriter and cheerleader Dennis Winslow deserves to be commended for his determination to steer Shoebox Letters towards greater glories. It’s not easy being an indie band these days (Has it ever been though?) but Shoebox Letters clearly possesses the verve and vitality needed for the big breakthrough that will hopefully come their way. Music this memorable deserves to be heard. 

No Depression

Shoebox Letters 
Better Times 
(independent) 
Despite their unlikely name, Shoebox Letters shine on Better Times, an album of exquisite Americana and stunning performances that strike a responsive chord from the first listen on. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Dennis Winslow is clearly the guiding force here, but the help he receives from an array of additional singers-- Stephanie Pranzetti, David Allen Baker, Daria Chick and Bob Logue -- help vary the tone and set the songs apart. “Sweet Talk,” “Drowning Inside” and Hannah” are the immediate standouts, each a combination of subtle hues and resonating refrains. Although the sentiments are occasionally subdued, the melodies elevate the proceedings and prevent them from being over encumbered by static or stereotypical emotions. What’s most surprising however is the fact that Better Times is but the latest in a string of albums the group has released since the start of the Millennium and yet, they still haven’t gained anywhere near the attention they so clearly deserve. So pull out these Shoebox Letters and give them a read. Better Times is nothing less than an awesome album.

No Depression

Splitting their base of operations between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, BC, Shoebox Letters have built an impressive catalog thus far. Their music encapsulates a tidy penchant for Americana and bluegrass, all delivered with an ernest appeal that recalls the pioneers of the initial country rock crossover -- the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers, and Poco among them.

The tellingly-titled The Road Not Taken, a rapid follow-up to this year’s earlier offering, Buckle Up, notches up another worthy addition to their resume, bringing with it the same instant appeal. Like the nine (!) albums that preceded it, it’s boasts a combination of easy, amiable melodies bolstered by close-knit harmonies and swaying steel guitar. All this boosts steadfast, assertive songs that affirm their confidence and craft.

As always, Shoebox Letters express an unabashed honesty and enthusiasm that suggests open prairies, majestic mountain ranges, and intimate back porch gatherings. That said, the sound varies from a rousingly defiant narrative about break ups and heartbreak on “Focus on my Drinking” (“I’m going to focus on my drinking/Stop this ship from sinking/Move on down the highway”) to mournful balladry on “Whiskey.” The latter is a lovesick lament that recounts the pleasure of drowning one’s sorrows, one tear at a time.

There are plenty of other highlights as well -- the assertive “Swinging Door,” the sweetly supple “I Don’t Feel Anything,” and the rich but remorseful “Unraveling.” If this album had come from a better known band it would likely be hailed as a masterpiece. As it is, The Road Not Taken ought not to be missed.

No Depression

Shoebox Letters Take This Town By Storm

Shoebox Letters - Love Sick Town

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN , STAFF REVIEWER 
MAY 25, 2016

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Eleven albums on, Shoebox Letters have shown themselves to be a band with a deep appreciation for their roots. So it’s especially significant that their new albumLove Sick Town finds them ploughing closer to those roots than ever before. The band’s fondness for their Americana forebears has always been evident, especially given the obvious inspiration they gleaned from bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield and all the other usual suspect. However this time around they circumvent those reference points and go back to the original sources, sounding at times like Johnny and June, or Merle, Willie, Kris and Waylon at others. Credit then, their stripped down sound, one which takes full advantage of the band’s innate appreciation for down home authenticity and back porch variety, an approach that appears to come straight out of the heartland. So while Shoebox Letters have always applied the lessons they learned with honesty and conviction, here they prove they’re ready to pass those intentions forward and bring those age-old precepts forward into today’s Americana environs.

In truth, Shoebox Letters have been prepping themselves for just such an accomplishment. Their last album, 2015’s The Road Not Taken, worked its way to the top of the Roots 66 airplay chart, a formidable task indeed. The album scored significant airplay throughout the country, making it the band’s most successful effort yet. Significantly then, singers Susan Lowery and Loren Lee have joined charter members Dennis Winslow and David Stricker, offering opportunity to extend that success with a reconfigured, repositioned outfit that offers their most honest and approachable effort yet. Everything comes across without any hint of pretence, be it the unassuming ramble of “Let Me Love You Again and “Lost,” the steady yet unhurried delivery of “I Fall For You,” the assertive call and response and catchy choruses that punctuate “Lucid,” or the sweet and gentle sigh that glides through “Leave Everything.”  In fact, there’s not a single song here that doesn’t make an immediate impression, all the more reason to suggest Love Sick Town marks a significant juncture in a journey that’s been quite impressive thus far.

No Depression

Portland Oregon’s Shoebox Letters has been carefully plying their craft over the course of a dozen albums, offering a style of authentic Americana that’s embedded in a homegrown sound. However, while they’ve been known to tap tradition, their new album, Tears for 2, marks a decided return to the more polished approach that marked their earliest efforts. It’s a clear departure from the stripped-down sound that defined their last album, Love Sick Town, but it still retains the core of their rootsy regimen. Far from abandoning those rustic roots, they actually embellish their efforts by according the songs fuller arrangements that offers a more immediate impression. Still, there’s essential emotion in each of its offerings, along with a rollicking delivery. The tone is set by the rousing “Done Drinkin’,” and is then carried forward by the celebratory shout-out within “4 Way Stop” and the upbeat and infectious songs that follow, “Alone Not Lonely” and “Any Old Heart.” Consequently, Tears for 2 belies its title, as evidenced by its sing-along choruses, irrepressible melodies and resilient refrains. By this time it’s clear, Shoebox Letters are a consistent quality brand. And that in itself is something to write home about.