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Shannon Wright

Dyed in the Wool

(Quarterstick; US: 21 Aug 2001)

As a singer, songwriter and musician, Shannon Wright has an extreme intensity about her at all times, whether she’s playing a rock song with the help of a band or performing a quiet number alone, with just her voice and a piano. Her third album Dyed in the Wool is 30 minutes long, but within that time she manages to knock you on your back and scare you to death, while still enchanting you with intriguing words and moments of sheer beauty.

Though Dyed in the Wool includes guest performers from many fine bands whose names are ready-made for album press releases (including Rachel’s, Japancakes and the Glands), her songs and her performance are always at the forefront. Whether delicately playing guitar, passionately exploding onto a piano or singing in her typically piercing yet off-kilter way, Wright grabs your attention through her performance alone. Yet the songs aren’t hollow. Her lyrics are absolutely enigmatic—hard to decipher, and then hard to get your head around when you do understand. But they help make the album absolutely haunting, along with the absorbing music.

The music mixes mood, melody, repetition and intense changes in tone to conjure up ghosts in the attic, comforting you and then making you feel like the world around you is a very unstable place. Wright also has the skill of placing unsettling surprises in songs, like the old-time strings that emerge in “Method of Sleeping”, sounding like a funeral march from the past; the buildup of drums in the album closer “Bells”; or the way her singing suddenly bursts with anger at the end of the title track. In the musical universe Wright creates, nothing is solid; everything is ever-shifting. “This frost you stand on / it draws on wobbled legs”, she sings in “You Hurry Wonder”. Everything about Dyed in the Wool stands on less than sturdy ground in one sense.

“There’s no cure so why should I care? You have fled into this blackness”, Wright sings on “Vessel for a Minor Malady”, and her music matches her words with bleakness. These aren’t radio-friendly songs for suburban families to use as background music in the minivan. You aren’t likely to hear lines like “There goes your mother and her plague” or “Come let’s probe these blackened eyes” floating over the walls of your cubicle at work. This is challenging music, at times quite dark in tone and perspective. But that’s a good thing. Shannon Wright doesn’t write cookie-cutter songs to be sell en masse as product. This is unique, multidimensional art. Listeners might have layers of sound and meaning to sort through, but they are rewarded.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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