Shannon Stevens - Pull It Together
Hailing from Seattle, Shannon Stephens' third album Pull It Together showcases a new stronger sense of self-belief and confidence. Many people became aware of Stephens after her 2009 album Breadwinner received rave reviews for its simplistic beauty.
Once a member of indie folk group Mazuki along with the legendary Sufjan Stevens, she went solo in 1999 releasing her self-titled debut. After a period of disillusionment from the music industry Shannon took an 8-year break from the business and concentrated on her family life. Breadwinner built upon her great musical lineage and contained a fragility that gave it charm and warmth, 3 years on however and Pull It Together sees that fragility replaced with the confidence of a serious musician.
This type of conviction is present from the first second of album opener 'Wax On Feathers', a dark brooding song that retains the emotion Stephens can bring with that voice but is taken down a different track with a crushingly dark guitar backing the piece. It's bluesy in the style of a Mark Lanegan tune, unsurprising considering the talent of musicians that have been chosen to back the heartbreaking vocalist. Lanegan and Isobel Campbell guitarist Jeff Feilder plays a prominent role in the albums more bluesy sound, as do members of Sufjan Steven’s projects.
The playing has therefore taken a step up and Stephens clearly revels in the wider pastures available to her. 'What Love Looks Like' is almost poppy with its upbeat groove and sweet harmonics, the band swaggers while Stephens has managed to find new areas of her voice to suit the mood. Elsewhere 'Girl' is a folk country song decorated with blues licks and a thudding drumbeat that pushes the song along; it even contains a honky-tonk style keyboard solo. This newfound expression suits Stephens well and that enjoyment comes through powerfully on each song.
Underground hero Bonnie Prince Billy lends his voice to 'Faces Like Ours' a staunchly political song about the trails of racial injustices and economic privilege. Far from being preachy the song's melody and the back and forth nature of the duet makes for a charming country song complete with slide guitar.
'Your Fabulous Friends' is the best track on the LP, it sees the blues totally embraced and produces a foot stomping song in the style of Seasick Steve. Stephens sounds angry and sarcastic for the first time on record and there is some fantastic slide guitar punctuating this aggressive nature. Pull It Together finishes on a particularly beautiful note; 'Responsible for Too long' is a ballad in the style of a sombre Burt Bacharach. Horns add depth to the intensely romantic mood; the only downfall of this song is that it doesn’t last long enough.
During her late 30's it seems as though Shannon Stephens has finally found her sound. All her experiences in and out of music have gone into making what must surely be a career high. The incorporation of blues and other traditional American music gives Pull It Together an edge of real class.