Rick Shea became a student of the golden age of Bakersfield country while cutting his teeth in the late '70s-early '80s honky tonks and bars of Southern California's hot, dusty Inland Empire. Some 30 years later, his fierce loyalty to California country still shows. Sweet Little Pocha, which draws a songwriting assist from Rosie Flores and features Los Lobos' David Hidalgo on accordion, is pure East L.A. barrio-country. "No Good Time for Leavin' " , is a Billy Jack Wills-styled ballroom shuffle, and the Irish-styled ballad Ty Robby, featuring the sweet harmony vocals of up-and-coming star Moira Smiley, evokes Haggard's classic Kern River. Indeed, Shelter Valley exists in San Diego's mountainous East County, as Shea weaves a tale of wondering how he wound up with the Shelter Valley Blues.
Shea wrote, produced, engineered and played a bunch of stringed instruments on the 11-song album recorded at his home near Los Angeles. Handling so many chores saves money, but it has its drawbacks. For an indie record, the production is remarkably clean, yet Shea's vocals occasionally flatten out from his classic country drawl. He's also a competent guitarist, but a blazing riff from a guest picker would have really spiced up a cut like Nelly Bly or Shinbone Alley.
Nonetheless, five albums and a couple decades into his career, Shea has firmly embedded himself in what suddenly appears to be a once-again thriving L.A. country music scene.