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Shannon McNally

Western Ballad

(Sacred Sumac; US: 8 Feb 2011; UK: Import)

Last I checked in with Shannon McNally, she was an engaging live performer who wasn’t quite getting that spark into the grooves of some promising and diverse records. That was quite a few years ago, and it sounds like it might be time to dive back into her catalog to see what she’s been up to. Western Ballad is an accomplished and satisfying record. Recorded at New Orleans’ Piety Street Recording, Ballad finds McNally teaming with Mark Bingham for a shimmery record that swings from a bayou waltz (“Tristesse Oubliée”) to ramblin’ country piano (“True Possession”) to rock (“Thunderhead”) to heartfelt ballad (the showstopping “In My Own Second Line”) and several points in between. McNally’s languid vocals give even the tensest of tales (such as the life in “Rock and Roll Angels” that’s described as being “like the Book of Job in 3/4 time”) a loose, organic feel. Western Ballad creates a gentle current that pulls you along, and it’s a pleasure to relax and see where it takes you.

Rating:

Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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