Head Space

Local country singer-songwriter Steven J. Shook prefers the authentic sound of bassy chords rather than using looping or processing to drive the music, giving his guitar playing a distinct sound.

Solo country artists are rare in Monterey County, but there’s a new kid in town looking to change all that. Whether he’s covering Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” or “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young, Steven J. Shook is having a blast pickin’ his way through the songs he grew up with in Carmel Valley.

There’s a natural feel to his guitar playing – a raw energy that stands out. It’s easiest to distinguish when listening to his countrified covers of well-known pop songs because the chords stand out more than music fans might expect. For example, Shook’s take on “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer and “When You Say Nothing At All” by Allison Krauss have sweeter notes, a higher pitch and stronger rhythm, giving the songs a dramatic appeal. It’s as if he is strumming in the background of a television show at its climactic moment.

Shook memorizes all his covers, which allows him to be spontaneous. He loves to improvise mashups. Yet as natural as Shook appears in the spotlight, performing solo was something he never dreamed he would do. Instead, Shook spent years perfecting his skills as a lead guitarist and touring with several bands.

His career was on an upswing. But life had other plans. Shook had complications from brain surgery in 2009, and suffered effects similar to a stroke. He was told he’d never play guitar again. After a long rehab, little by little, Shook was able to pick it up again. It’s a compelling backstory, but Shook chooses to focus on today.

After writing songs and playing guitar for other artists for so long, Shook is happily absorbed in all the aspects of flying solo. And 2020 is a big year, with an EP coming in late fall.

Steven J. Shook 5pm Sunday, Feb. 23. Puma Road Tasting Room, 281 Alvarado St., Monterey, No cover. 747-1911, pumaroad.com

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