weather icon Partly Cloudy

Shanda & The Howlers shine on debut record

You see it register in her feet first, the groove.

Right then left, right then left, each heel rises as if Shanda Cisneros is squishing bugs to the beat.

Soon enough, her hands and hips join the party, the former flared out, her palms becoming stop signs, the latter swishing to and fro as the rhythm builds.

The garage is hot and quickly growing hotter as Shanda & the Howlers get to work on a Thursday evening.

Bassist Luke Metz moved to his new eastside home recently, and so the band’s rehearsal spot is still largely unadorned, its walls decorated by a lone picture of a shaggy Tom Waits, back when he was looking like the Wolfman’s stunt double.

After drummer Keith Alcantara gets this session started, saxophonist Micah Lapping-Carr rips a lead that reverberates through the room. Six-stringer Trevor Johnson adds funky stabs of guitar, while Cisneros brings it all home on the mic, her voice collapsing blues, soul and R&B into a singular expression of feminine guile and vigor.

“Singing songs in the soul genre is really tough,” Metz notes before practice, hanging with his bandmates next to a vintage jukebox loaded with ? and the Mysterians, Elvis and Stiff Little Fingers jams. “I think it’s gotta go directly from your heart and right out through your voice. You can’t stop and think about it too much; it can’t go to the brain too much.”

In other words you’ve got to feel it, and Cisneros certainly does, palpably. She’s the focal point of Shanda & the Howlers’ new record, “Trouble,” the band’s first. It’s an album rooted in vintage sounds — think LaVern Baker, Howlin’ Wolf, Stax Records — but it never feels nostalgic. Too often, bands that explicitly mine the past can feel like a study in form, elevating style above substance.

What makes this bunch stand out is they internalize their influences and then create something fresh from familiar sources.

It begins with Cisernos, who’s an assertive, no-nonsense presence on “Trouble.” “Don’t call me babe. Don’t call me buttercup,” she warns during the punchy swing of “Mind Made Up.” “I’m not your little plaything, you can count on that,” she thunders on “Don’t Need Your Love.” “I’ll never be your puppet on a string.”

This is an album of strong songs populated by female protagonists who are stronger still.

“I think more women should have the voice of confidence,” Cisneros explains, arms and shoulders brightened by floral tattoos.

Cisneros began getting in touch with her voice at 15 years old, when her brother gave her an Ella Fitzgerald cassette.

“That changed my life forever,” she says. “I wanted to be her for the longest time until I found out that I had more of an Etta James-type growl. That’s when I really got into the blues.”

Cisneros has fronted other acts, but this is the first time she’s singing original material.

It’s working.

Songs from “Trouble,” which was put out by Boston indie Rum Bar Records, have been played on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” show on satellite radio, and the band has gotten positive reviews nationally and abroad in countries like Spain and England.

“We just sold a CD in France and sent that out,” Cisneros grins. “I was elated going to the post office, ‘I have to send this to Paris.’ ”

The band gigs steadily, playing upward of six sets a night on some occasions. They’re the rare act equally capable of going over with the rockabilly faithful at Viva Las Vegas, where they’ve turned in well-received performances, as well as, say, a punk crowd in Flagstaff, Arizona. (“They were moshing to us,” Alcantara notes).

Johnson breaks down the band’s appeal succinctly: “Drinkin’ and dancin,’ ” he says.

Back in the garage, the group works on a new tune, Cisneros reading her handwritten lyrics as she sings.

She’s found her voice.

It fills the room.

“In every project I had been in before, it was a cover band. This was our material and it felt very personal,” she explained earlier in the evening. “It was very empowering for me. I wasn’t very comfortable being powerful. These guys made sure I was.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)