Pressing Concerns: John Sharkey III, ‘Shoot Out the Speed Cameras’

Release date: March 5th
Record label: 12XU/Mistletone
Genre: Gothic country folk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: I Found Everyone This Way

Apparently it’s John Sharkey III Week at Rosy Overdrive—one of his bands, Dark Blue, was featured on a playlist post that went up Monday, and now I’m getting around to talking about Shoot Out the Cameras, the first album he’s made under his own name. If you’re familiar with Dark Blue’s full post-punk bombast (or, God forbid, his other band Clockcleaner’s noise-punk), then you might be surprised to hear that Shoot Out the Cameras is a sparse, largely acoustic folk record. Sharkey’s voice, however, is as unmistakable and affecting as ever. Recorded after Sharkey relocated to Australia from his native Philadelphia, his rich baritone anchors an album inspired by the wildfires visible ambiently in the distance, discord in both his adopted home and birth nation, and the country music passed down to him at a young age from his mother and grandmother.

Like the bushfires in the hills outside his home in Canberra, Shoot Out the Cameras smolders. When Sharkey sings “Death is all around me, and I’m fine”, he’s making an observation over anything else—it lands like there’s no value placed on it one way or another. The headiness continues with the album’s twin seven-minute centerpieces, “Shooting Out the Speed Cameras” and “Pain Dance”. The former, with its droning feedback and Sharkey’s deliberate, chant-like vocals, is the album’s dizzying, harrowing peak, evoking the boiling dread caused by constant surveillance. The latter brings Shoot Out the Cameras down to Earth a bit with Sharkey’s return to melodic delivery and pretty acoustic guitar, but it still finds time for Crazy Horse-style soloing along the way.

I don’t want to overstate how dour Shoot Out the Cameras is. Yes, it does pull out of its difficult middle section with another song about death, but “You Don’t Have to Leave Me Flowers” comes off reassuring in its titular request. Likewise, the bombs dropping in “Tell Me Tell Me” don’t get in the way of the song’s tender balladry, and the under-the-moonlight, pre-rock-and-roll feel of “Picking Roses” isn’t hindered by the cemetery imagery and references to “crimson dunes”. In fact, the hopefulness that runs through Shoot Out the Cameras isn’t in spite of its subject matter, but rather because of how Sharkey approaches it. As dispassionate as he is when he actually sings “Death is all around me, and I’m fine”, it’s not hard to read the sentiment as both defiant and calming throughout the record.

The latter reading is how the album drifts off, with the closing “Show Me the Way Through the Valley”, and it’s a testament to Shoot Out the Cameras that when Mary Lattimore’s harp shows up in the song, the instrument feels right at home. As strong as Sharkey’s voice is on most of the album, here he opts for a near-whisper as he ties together images and thoughts from across the record—the land in ruins, life growing cold, fleeting, shallow human emotions in response to all of it. Like the sepia tones of “Picking Roses”, it’s no accident that Sharkey ends the journey in the metaphorical valley that so many gospel-tinged folk and country songs before it have evoked. This is the key for placing Shoot Out the Cameras in the context of Sharkey’s body of work. It’s a traditional, universal, elemental album that strikes new ground for Sharkey by unearthing the old. (Bandcamp link)

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