Talk about chemistry: Our Shangri-LA establishes just how beautifully local scenesters Rick Shea and Patty Booker work and sound together. Produced by the San Berdu-raised, Covina-based Shea (a longtime member of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men), this impeccable 13-song collection of traditional West Coast honky-tonk duets (most of them originals) recalls the hard country call-and-response pairings of Rose & Buck, Merle & Bonnie, and George & Tammy. Costa Mesa singer/songwriter Booker is a descendant of Okies who brings to the material a tough bite, tender vulnerability and sexual tension. Shea complements her beautifully with his deep-voiced, more nuanced phrasing and delivery. Alternately upbeat and bitter, these story-songs naturally focus on the up-and-down affairs of the heart, where jealousy and betrayal (Shea and Booker's "Baby That Ain't True"), deep romantic yearning (Shea's "I'm No Good Without You") and relative domestic bliss (Booker and Jann Browne's "Our Shangri-LA") add spice to everyday life. And true to the heartbreak that is country music, Shea's vivid, gut-wrenching "The House That We Once Lived In" closes the album with a physically decaying home working as a metaphor for a weary, withering marriage. The timeless, rich music sparkles throughout, particularly the haunting steel-guitar and dobro playing of Gary Brandin, Shea's twangy guitar licks, and Eddie Baytos' folksy, rootsy accordion/washboard flourishes. But what's most remarkable about Our Shangri-LA is how it honors country's time-honored roots without being a slave to them. Now how unusual is that?
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