[BLUES-FOLK] Encountering Shoeshine Blue for the first time is like fiddling with the radio dial while driving through the heartland of America: Faint traces of melodic history—crackling lo-fi blues and folk—slip in and out, when suddenly a harmonica comes fighting through static. This languid but persistent brassy reed transports you to a farm's front porch, where you squint through thick heat onto a horizon of crops and brewing storms. Nearby, a frantic but steady writer clicks away at his typewriter. His name is Michael Apinyakul, and he's hunting down static, dreaming of the city and constructing rigorous ballads that breathe life into the rural underbelly of America.

So begins Shoeshine Blue's debut full-length, Talk Real Slow, which embodies the drive of garage, the ancient angst of the blues and the reflective coherence of folk. Before feeling the magnetic pull of Portland's music scene, Missouri native Apinyakul absorbed the gritty, pastoral aesthetic of country and folk musics. And on Talk Real Slow, sketches of poverty mix with drifters, weather and, of course, static. While the ephemeral persists, so does the desire to pin things down. On the title track, Apinyakul and drummer/violinist Shawn McLain softly sing, "Maybe if we talk real slow/ The words will never end."

Since moving to the city, the dark-haired guitarist has become increasingly fascinated with the countryside he left behind. And though Apinyakul's portraits sting with grotesque rural hardships, they are wrought with a deep sense of compassion as well. Over coffee at the Half & Half cafe, Apinyakul describes the roots of the characters in his songs: "Empathy," he warmly reflects, "is the whole point of their creation."

Talk Real Slow and the band's 2004 EP, Sometimes Through the Static (both self-released), are homespun amalgamations of restless living-room folk and hot-blooded blues. Yet McLain's violin and the recent addition of Wylum Joersz (of Run On Sentence) on double bass give Shoeshine Blue a new depth. And with new songs already in the works, the trio is eager to assemble more musicians as it moves away from the four-track cassette to build deeper layers and, consequently, larger ideas.

"It's hard to get momentum, but it feels like we're starting to get some," Apinyakul tentatively asserts. Change (and static) is in the air, so stay tuned: It's amazing to think what a little velocity—and a few years of Portland rain—could provoke in Shoeshine Blue's already keen sense of sound and place. ANIKA SABIN.

Shoeshine Blue celebrates the release of

Talk Real Slow

Friday, March 23, with
Musee Mecanique at Mississippi Studios. 10 pm. $7 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.