Lilybandits “Shifty’s Tavern”

Who Needs A Drink Records, 2022 (25th Anniversary Reissue)

Twenty-fifth anniversary vinyl reissue of critically acclaimed but not widely known debut from a great Columbus band.

Lilybandits were a hugely talented five-piece Americana band from Columbus, Ohio who formed in 1993 and broke up in 2001. With Todd May on vocals and guitar, Jason Gonzales on lead guitar and mandolin, Trent Arnold on bass, Bob Hite on keyboards and accordion, and Keith Smith on drums, they released two critically acclaimed but not widely known albums, ‘Shifty’s Tavern‘ in 1995 and ‘@33 1/3‘ in 1999. In early 2020, May, Gonzales and Arnold decided that ‘Shifty’s Tavern‘ deserved a twenty-fifth anniversary vinyl reissue, and although the pandemic set everything back, it has now arrived, and is well worth the wait!

Shifty’s Tavern‘ consists of ten Todd May compositions, characterised by his own distinctive, gritty vocals and the accompaniment of chiming guitars. The Jayhawks and The Long Ryders are reference points, but Lilybandits have a sound all of their own, and on ‘Crownover Mill‘, the centrepiece of the album and the longest track, the dark, brooding guitar solos really pack a punch. Elsewhere, songs such as ‘Vertigo‘, with its “long way down” refrain and explosive ending, ‘Drunk‘ and ‘Kandy Kane‘, are easy to imagine being played live in a small, sweaty bar with the audience packed in and singing along to every chorus.

It’s a huge pity that Lilybandits didn’t continue for long into the twenty-first century, but they left their mark and it is to be hoped that new listeners will discover their great music through this reissue. Sadly, Keith Smith passed away unexpectedly in November of last year, but the remaining members of the band continue to make music to this day. Hite plays keyboards in the band, The X-Rated Cowboys; Arnold plays bass in a punk band called Prs. Robinson; Gonzales records ambient music under the name Sycamore Willow; and May is the only member still making music professionally, recording and performing Americana music under his own name and playing guitar for Americana artist Lydia Loveless.

Shifty’s Tavern‘ is well worth a listen, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘@33 1/3‘ is next year, so we can but hope!

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About GrahamBollands 28 Articles
Proud dad of Jess, Harry and Lucie. Was a headteacher for 17 years and now pleased to share my experiences working as a university tutor training the next generation of primary teachers. Now living the dream in North Devon, doing up a barn, growing vegetables, walking the coastpath, volunteering on a farm alongside young adults with learning difficulties, presenting a weekly radio show, singing in a choir, and whenever possible, listening to great music and going to gigs.
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