Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Shannon McNally - Western Ballad

Prairie Poetry

Western Ballad has an uncertain start with opener Memory Of A Ghost’s heart-beat percussion and haunting guitar calls suggesting musical intrigue, but it suddenly rolls into a formulaic ‘cowboy’ song with its rather simple melody – yet I guess that’s the point of what McNally calls her ‘North American Ghost Music’ sound, as well as interest in Native American and roots culture, this latter aspect also reflected on the first track with its ending chant-call. The second High Western is also a slow and simple number, certainly a far cry from the rock and blues of her preceding and excellent album Coldwater. Even third When I Am Called continues this restrained but folksy sound, though accordion and vocal harmony enliven it by comparison.

My interest is aroused by fourth Western Ballad, a more emotive song with McNally’s vocal aching and full, a military snare and reverb guitar also adding the first sonic gravitas to this wonderfully poignant Allen Ginsberg poem set to music,

A Western Ballad

When I died, love, when I died
my heart was broken in your care;
I never suffered love so fair
as now I suffer and abide
when I died, love, when I died.

When I died, love, when I died
I wearied in an endless maze
that men have walked for centuries,
as endless as the gate was wide
when I died, love, when I died.

When I died, love, when I died
there was a war in the upper air:
all that happens, happens there;
there was an angel by my side
when I died, love, when I died.

It is the second half of the album that engages more. Sixth Tristesse Oubliée reflects McNally’s recording of this album with fellow performer/writer Mark Bingham at New Orleans’ Piety Street studio.  Eighth Rock and Roll Angel is a slowly strummed guitar lament in the style of Emmylou Harris. Ninth Toast is positively funky in contrast with the overall pace of this album, and McNally’s soulful singing rides it out sensuously. Penultimate number Little Stream of Whiskey returns to the military drumming of earlier, and this more quirky piece has McNally singing a yo-yo range but also cutting some crisp Country guitar licks. This is a neat foil to the closing ballad In My Own Second Line which is the strongest song of all - a brooding and poetic track.

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