Eric Schaffer sunk his roots into Southern Arizona’s robust Americana scene around a decade ago. He and his band, the Other Troublemakers, have since become standouts for their earthen, bluesy folk sound, running lockstep with the likes of Steve Earle. Earlier this year, the band dropped Dry Lightning, their second full-length album and third overall release. Schaffer’s capabilities as a frontman, paired with his smoky vocals and songwriting chops, have helped the band stand out from Tucson and Phoenix’s swath of folk-rock and alt-country outfits.
For this record, they caught the ear of Peter Dalton Ronstadt, who himself collaborates with the Other Troublemakers on the album, having also produced it. The production is full-bodied and effulgent, effectively capturing the band’s performance as it would sound in concert, with a balanced mix that feels just right for Schaffer and company to sink into. The Other Troublemakers have remarked that their music pulls from myriad influences, and it has never been more felt than it has on Dry Lightning. Opener ‘Great Wild Nowhere’ is hearty, road-worn Americana that feels welcome as a natural evolution to their usual scope, but ‘Love’s Got a Way’ brings in 70s-era soul riffs as Schaffer convincingly croons on a seductive romance. ‘Mama’s BOGO Blues’ is a fan-favorite, tongue-in-cheek number that takes a sonic note from western swing tunes, while ‘My Friend’ is a sparse and affecting folk ballad about reconnecting with old friends.
The album features a collective of co-writes, none more standout than with Schaffer’s spouse, Carol. The two have been a collaborative songwriting force since 2014, and now every song on this new record is co-written by the two of them. They’re joined by other artistic forces, including their son, Joe, on ‘Wild and Hard to Find’ and ‘Mama’s BOGO Blues’, as well as Bernice Lewis (‘My Friend’) and Sunny Gable on the album’s intense, rocking title track.
It’s a who’s-who of musical collaborators, as well; Dry Lightning has the Other Troublemakers team-up with Gable and P.D. Ronstadt, plus Alvin Blaine, Liz Cerepanya, Sunny Gable, Heather Hardy, Peter McLaughlin, Jim Lipson, and two other Ronstadts for good measure—pianist Bobby Ronstadt, and cellist Michael G. This makes for a wholehearted collaboration with some of the region’s best instrumentalists and vocalists, notable as well for the contributions to a swirl of other bands including the Sonoran Dogs, Wayback Machine, and others. Notably, Cerepanya offers her warm contralto to a heartfelt duet with Schaffer on ‘I Choose You’, making for one of the album’s highlights. (Note: Other standout tracks for this author include ‘Dry Lightning’, ‘The Garden’, and ‘Love’s Got a Way’.)
Dry Lightning is one of the strongest records to come out of Arizona in recent memory and another exemplary showcase of the collaborative force that Tucson is. Schaffer and company have created a fiercely memorable slice of Americana that will be driving with us well into the new year. We’ve had our “dry heat”, and now we have some Dry Lightning to go along with it.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm