Monday, 2 July 2012

Shannon Stephens - Pull It Together

Just One More Song

Listening to seventh track Faces Like Ours in another room from where it was being played, I could hear one of those vocal echoes of another great female singer which prompts the comparison – sometimes overdone, but apt if touchstone and compliment – and here it was recognising the later-life, mature tenor of Joni Mitchell: that is until I worked out this was the one duet on Stephens' fine album and it was Bonnie Prince Billy’s dulcet tone I was actually preparing to cite comparatively in this imminent review. Perhaps a first - this comparison of the Prince with the Queen of female vocal.

The album gets off to a potent start with Wax and Feathers and its slow echoing guitar riffs with Stephens’ voice powerful and clear above this and the subsequent brief but atmospheric angelic chorus. Second Care of You is all percussion and banjo and that strong vocal again. Fourth Girl seems to be self-addressed and contains lush vocalising as well as the directive you got to love your own soul and this is certainly realised in the depth and quality of her singing. Fifth Cold November gives more opening playtime and scene-setting to an angelic chorus, leading to this piano driven autumnal ballad – played today on another apposite grey English summer's morning! Still, Shannon Stephens is from Seattle.

Stephens writes sassy as well as introspective lyrics, and in sixth track Out of Sight there is a smartass irony that exemplifies her intelligent songwriting,

Oh, the Lord owes me a livin' cause I am his child.
Oh, the Lord owes me a livin' cause I'm meek and mild.
I think God should write my checks; he's got all the money, after all.
He's the one who made my life; how 'bout making it less difficult?

Someone put me on the payroll; I'm completely qualified.
Someone sign me up with that great big sugardaddy in the sky.

Faces Like Ours, mentioned at the start, is a pretty duet with beautiful harmonising and sweet steel guitar. But the lyrics again display a satirical thoughtfulness that belies the pleasing melody,

We’re gonna be alright; baby, we are still young.
Baby, we are still young, and that’s more than some people can say.
We’re gonna be okay; at least we have white skin,
and when you have white skin nobody can send you away.
And people are inclined to help, to help
other people who look like themselves.

The album ends on another beautiful song, eleventh track Remember Too Long, where the request for just one more song is lyrically within a plaintive, yearning context but is also an apt and positive response in listening to this album.

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