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Shadow & The Thrill release blues-infused, groove-heavy debut ‘Sugarbowl’

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Grammy-nominated rocker Tony "Montana" Cardenas (Great White, Slash) and New Orleans-based Brentt Acrement are Shadow & The Thrill. The blues-infused, groove-heavy band's monstrous-sounding debut album 'Sugar Bowl' is being released one song and video at a time. "I consider this album to be a significant piece of work; it's a very big deal for me," guitarist and vocalist Cardenas tells The Maine Edge. "This music has legs and I can't wait for people to hear it." Grammy-nominated rocker Tony "Montana" Cardenas (Great White, Slash) and New Orleans-based Brentt Acrement are Shadow & The Thrill. The blues-infused, groove-heavy band's monstrous-sounding debut album 'Sugar Bowl' is being released one song and video at a time. "I consider this album to be a significant piece of work; it's a very big deal for me," guitarist and vocalist Cardenas tells The Maine Edge. "This music has legs and I can't wait for people to hear it." (Image courtesy of the band)

Once in a blue moon (in this case, a pink moon) a new blues-based band or artist arrives on the scene with an undeniable piece of music that makes me want to hear more. Stevie Ray Vaughan did it in 1983 with “Texas Flood.” Robert Cray accomplished the same thing in 1986 with “Smoking Gun.” The Black Crowes did it in 1990 with “Jealous Again,” as did Susan Tedeschi in 1998 with “It Hurt So Bad” and The Raconteurs in 2006 with “Steady, As She Goes.”

The new Los Angeles-based band Shadow & The Thrill sent me on a search for more after hearing “Misery,” the first taste of their debut album “Sugarbowl.” It’s a gargantuan-sounding slice of soulfully sinuous groove-based blues rock. I hoped the track was a bellwether and not the exception. After checking out more of the band’s great new songs, including “Just Enough,” “Shake the Devil” and a wild cover of Tommy Bolin’s “The Grind,” my interest was piqued.

Come to find out, Shadow & The Thrill is brand new project from some familiar names. Guitarist and lead vocalist Tony Cardenas-Montana (Great White, Slash, Asia) and in-demand New Orleans-based session and touring drummer Brentt Arcement are joined on “Sugarbowl” by a band of heavy hitters. The album’s massive sound comes courtesy of master mixer Syliva Massy (Tool, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers).

I reached out to Tony Cardenas-Montana in the hope that he would peel back a few layers of mystery surrounding the music of this great new band.

The Maine Edge: This is a whole new thing for you. According to what I’ve read, you and Brentt recorded this album in New Orleans. Did that environment contribute to the sound of “Sugarbowl?”

Cardenas-Montana: Brent and I have been longtime friends and sometime collaborators. I knew this was going to be a very special collection of tunes for me and I had to have Brentt as my drummer. Since he’s in New Orleans, it made sense to record there. New Orleans has such a great vibe for recording music. My career has been in a blues-rock direction anyway with Great White, so to be in Louisiana – in the middle of where some of this music originated – it’s powerful.

The Maine Edge: “Misery” certainly got my attention. Where did that song come from?

Cardenas-Montana: It was born out of this acoustic, deep Delta blues thing that I wrote in the style of R.L. Burnside (Mississippi blues-man who finally gained prominence in the ‘80s – nearly 50 years after he began). Being introduced to his music put me in a totally different headspace. That guy was for real. No Auto-Tune or Beat Detective (software used to manipulate vocals and music) and I wanted that real emotion in this music. I want people to be able to feel it.

The Maine Edge: Has blues always been a foundation for you?

Cardenas-Montana: I’ve always been drawn to rock that was heavily steeped in blues. That obviously includes names like Led Zeppelin but one of my main guys has always been Elvis. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t have rock records, but they had Elvis records. I would gravitate toward to the groovy Elvis songs like “Little Sister” and “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.” Listen to Elvis’s band on those songs – they’re groovin’!

As I got a little older, I basically became a student of Alan Niven (manager of Great White and Guns N’ Roses). He would bring these songs to us to learn and we became students of that music.

The Maine Edge: This record has a massive sound. Was that a goal when you and Brentt started recording?

Cardenas-Montana: I wanted this record to be slinky-sounding and groove oriented – and Brentt is a big part of that – but I also wanted it to sound monstrous. We went all out on the mix. I took the tracks to Sylvia Massy and left them with her to mix. I was blown away when I heard what she had done. She came back with the mixes and it was crunchy man (laughs). It’s really crunchy, I love it.

The Maine Edge: You’re taking an interesting approach with this release. Instead of issuing the full album at once, we’re getting ‘Sugarbowl’ one track at a time. Will the full record be released soon?

Cardenas-Montana: It will be eventually. There as a point when we considered releasing the whole thing at once but we decided to do it single by single and video by video. The next video will be ‘Shake the Devil.’

The Maine Edge: I love that song. Where did it come from?

Cardenas-Montana: Pete Merluzzi is my manager and the album’s Executive Producer. He introduced me to that song. That groove and attitude in that song is killer and the lyrics are amazing. It has that cool section with the shuffle beat. I’m really excited about this song. It features a great New Orleans vocalist named Telissa Long. She sings those incredible choruses and just tears it up. I knew we had something special but she took it to another level. I said ‘Good Lord, please leave her front and center. She is bad-ass.’

The Maine Edge: Tommy Bolin’s ‘The Grind’ is an inspired choice of songs to cover. I’d like to think Tommy would approve of where you guys took his song. It cooks.

Cardenas-Montana: I’ve had ‘The Grind’ in my back pocket for I can’t tell you how long. Alan Niven is still a close friend and he suggested that song ages ago. At the time, I wasn’t that familiar with Tommy’s work but when I heard ‘The Grind,’ it sounded like a hit song to me.

The Maine Edge: How old were you and Brentt when you guys played your first paying gigs with your respective bands?

Cardenas-Montana: I played my first professional gig at the age of 15. It was at a place called Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. We played a bunch of bars up and down the strip but I was so young, my father had to come with me. The same goes for Brentt. When I was in LA, he was in New Orleans – a city where you can’t walk 10 feet without hearing yet another live band. There’s live music throughout the French Quarter pretty much 24 hours a day. He’s such a phenomenal musician, he was playing professionally in his teens like me.

The Maine Edge: You’ve obviously put a lot into Shadow and The Thrill. What does it mean to you personally? How important is this new album to you?

Cardenas-Montana: I’ve done some stuff over the years that I think is pretty good – including Great White – but I consider this album to be a significant piece of work. It’s a very big deal for me. I think this music has legs and I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s real. There’s a lot of carefully programmed music out there that may be technically perfect but it lacks heart. This music isn’t perfect but it’s all heart and soul.

The Maine Edge: Do you think we’re on the cusp of a shift in the music scene back to more of the real music that you just described?

Cardenas-Montana: It’s time for real music to come back down the pike. There’s a circle of bands out there doing it now, like Rival Sons and Great Van Fleet. Joe Bonamassa is a monster player.

I have kids and I pay attention to what they’re listening to. I watch the waves of what’s popular and what comes and goes in terms of popularity. So much of what gets played today sounds the same. I’m waiting for millennials to discover somebody like an R.L. Burnside. When you hear something real, it’s undeniable. Real music touches you, and when it does, it’s got you for life.

The Maine Edge: The name of the band – Shadow & The Thrill. The first thing I thought of was the classic radio mystery drama ‘The Shadow’ – ‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?’ – Any connection?

Cardenas-Montana: (laughing) Yes. We knew we had something special and we needed a special name. I wanted it to be cool but dark. My manager has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music but also of radio history. ‘The Shadow’ is a nod to the classic radio serial so we chose that. We wanted a connection to the blues, so we thought about ‘The Thrill is Gone’ by B.B. King. It works, because I’m a shadowy kind of a character (laughs) and Brentt is the thriller.

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