Shannon McArdle

Summer of the Whore

by Alan Brown

13 January 2009

 

Following the breakup of her marriage to fellow band member Timothy Bracy in Febuary 2007 and the subsequent dissolution of the Mendoza Line, Shannon McArdle, singer/songwriter with the critically acclaimed indie rock/country band since 1998, shut the door to their Brooklyn apartment, curled up in bed, and waited.  At first, she waited for Bracy to return.  Then, when it became clear the relationship was truly over, she just waited for things to get better. 

They didn’t—not at first, anyway.  But by April, after an accidental fall down a flight of subway stairs left McArdle incapacitated with a serious back injury, the songwriter got the idea to record six songs that went with a children’s book she had written called Mushka.  She phoned Adam D. Gold, friend and drummer in the Mendoza Line’s final line-up, and headed for the studio.  The tunes were cut but not released.  Nevertheless, McArdle was inspired to record again.  Three months later, she started writing the deeply personal songs which make up her solo debut, Summer of the Whore, an unflinching collection of hauntingly beautiful numbers. 

cover art

Shannon McArdle

Summer of the Whore

(Bar-none)
US: 19 Aug 2008
UK: Available as import

That’s the backstory; the album covers the fallout and it’s not always an easy listen.  Recorded at Gold’s Slope Park studio in a matter of weeks with help from Gold on drums and bass, as well as her twin brother Paul on guitar, Summer of the Whore is a candid chronicle from the frontlines of despair, where lustful freedom (barely) compensates for the gaping chasm of loneliness and low self-esteem is elicited from every fraught line. 

The spectral opener “Poison My Cup” sounds as though McArdle is hauling herself through a hallucinatory haze as her breathy, soporific rasp sings “You don’t have to tell me you love me baby / I still go down” to a passing lover in a hotel room. The shimmering title-track continues in this vein, detailing a season of feverish heat where revenge and sex combine as she offers up “You can have me in the back of your car / You can have me anywhere / All these months since he left me / Has emptied me out to the core”, ending the song with “But this offer is over, once I’ve settled up the score / If I were you, I’d get it on the summer of the whore”.  Simply heartrending to listen to.

In the album’s standout number, McArdle uses time-honored narrative tropes to distance herself from emotion.  “That Night In June” draws upon the style of a classic country murder ballad, conveying a gracefully poetic tale, told from the perspective of a murderer who drowned his lover in the river, through the light touch of drums, melancholy violin, and gentle acoustic strum. 

With lines such as “Do I sleep on my side, or in the middle of the bed” (“Paint the Walls”), McArdle begins to slowly accept that it’s over, and ponders the big “if” on the gut-wrenching country heartbreaker “He Was Gone”, where the singer grieves over a child the couple discussed but never had: “He could have made us a universe”.  No wonder she then turns vitriolic: “You just cannot dangle that bait / You do not ask her to wait just to leave her”.  There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel on the penultimate track “Come, Autumn Breeze”, where a new love offers glimpses of hope.  You really have to squint to see it through the sadness, though.         

Music as therapy never sounded so good.

Summer of the Whore

Rating:

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