The New York trio of Sue Garner, Amanda Uprichard and Amy McMahon Rigby (then fresh from the Last Roundup with her brother Michael McMahon, who is spending the 21st century in the thoroughly retro-minded Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Company) had some beautiful songs but occasionally sold short their greatest asset: casually spectacular, country-based three-part harmonies. All the Shams really needed backing them up were Rigby and Garner’s graceful, unobtrusive acoustic guitar and bass playing — their voices were the rightful stars of the show.
Quilt finds the band mostly sharing the instrumental spotlight with Robert Quine, Lenny Kaye and ex-dB’s drummer Will Rigby; though the guests play tastefully, the extra instruments still sometimes get in the way of the simplicity of Amy Rigby’s songs. The album’s highlight is a re-recording of the first Shams single, 1989’s “Only a Dream,” but there are lots of other great moments; the beautifully constructed frustrated-love songs “Stuck Here on the Ground” and “Watching the Grass Grow” would be on oldies radio every eight hours if they’d only been recorded 20 years earlier. Quilt also has a drastic rearrangement of Richard Hell’s “Time” (with Hell’s old bandmate Quine adding a little lead guitar), Uprichard’s pleasant “Ice Tea” and an adorable a cappella novelty, “File Clerk Blues.”
The three-song Sedusia is something of a letdown. Garner’s “Continuous Play” is lovely, but “Voices in My Head” drags on and on and the live favorite “Love Me With Your Mind” (which rhymes “thrill” with “ce-re-be-rill”) gets cheesy moans, synth-drums and — shades of Bananarama — unison singing. Following Sedusia, the Shams began work on a second full-length album, but broke up before it could be completed.
The Biggest Square Thing, Garner’s experimental duo-plus-guests with singer/guitarist Ruth Peyser, released one 7-inch: three songs that barely total five minutes. An edgy, no wave-like record that’s interesting though too short to be substantial, it couldn’t sound less like the Shams. Garner went on to form Run On with former Fish & Roses bandmate Rick Brown.
Following the breakup of the Shams, and a subsequent divorce from Will Rigby, Amy Rigby became a solo artist.