Take the lively "Big Hippo" for instance - created in the tour van as the group drove through a monsoon, and performed that very same night - where soulful, boogie-woogie keys from legendary pianist Johnny Iguana (who has played with the likes of Junior Wells, Van Morrison, and Koko Taylor) assist the tune, chugging along with the power of a freight train thanks to friend and long-time band member Russ Gillespie’s crunchy guitar up-strokes. All the while, the band's riding a brash blues vibe and the eventual crazed shouts from Shaheen command your ears as well as your already-dancing feet.
On the flip side, the seemingly endless emptiness between notes on "Long Way Down" is almost its own instrument entirely. Penned about finding love in a bustling city with an array of options and distractions, each instrument - wurlitzer, acoustic guitar, the warm hum of the bass, the heartbeat of a kickdrum - is given ample breathing room to provide the focus on Shaheen alone, for arguably his best vocal to date. Also at play here is the artist's much-appreciated specification: He's not just in an apartment, he's “inside a little bedroom on the third floor of a red-brick, green-doored flat.” Yet, after making specific points about his location and his company, he admits not knowing "a thing about where I'm at." It's an honest admission that points out Shaheen's inarguable strengths as a songwriter and lyricist. He's soaking up his surroundings and, maybe too often, putting himself on the back-burner.
Shaheen's journeys throughout the album aren't just by foot or automobile, but deep within the recesses of the mind. In the fever-dream chaos of "Flashbulbs," one of the album's many lively highlights, he struggles with being framed and eventually exonerated for murder, a scenario that developed from a real-life panic: "I was in the kitchen cooking dinner,” prefaces Shaheen. “I remember I was chopping up potatoes when this violent vision completely overtook me. Everything was so vivid. I had a full-on panic attack right there.” Even two weeks later, he was actively dealing with guilt he had no control over. “I couldn’t hold a knife for weeks. ‘What the hell was that? How could you even think that? You’re going crazy.’ I read all about it online, like I'm a psychiatrist trying to diagnose myself and find the cure all at once. I found these message boards where people were dealing with stuff like this for years. It made me more nervous, but at the same time gave me hope. After I had some time to reflect, I started to write down the scene as it came to me and a song started to take shape. The idea was to lay it all out and triumph over it.”
Listening to Sauvignon all the way through, one takes these trips with Shaheen and the band, and comes out the other end like they've actually traveled some distance, despite camping out in front of their stereo. Just as the album's opening cut "State Song" begins the journey (with landmarks and names of locations adding to the personal nature of the track), Sauvignon wraps up with "Younger Years," where Shaheen suggests his sweetheart fetch a bottle of wine while he slips an LP on the turntable. It's a fitting final chapter to an album full of carnal instincts, wild dreams and a sense of adventure for the ears, eyes and soul.
Within those final few minutes, Shaheen admits he's "having trouble realizing that I'm not that important / It's a good lesson, I suppose." And while he's reflecting about the loss of those days within "Younger Years," there's a sense that we should all be thankful for that id inside all of us; that mythical sense of self that drives us to create, dream, drive or scream. Without it, we don't have much to remember or look forward to, and game-changing albums like Sauvignon - and the experiences that shape them - wouldn't exist.
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