We have all heard of the stereotype pertaining to Seattle’s weather but seldom get a chance to experience it first-hand. It’s fortunately the opposite of the weather here, but if the opportunity to sink into that ever every-shade-of-gray atmosphere rises, remember a bluesy country sound that’s heard coming from many Nashville bands influenced by Jack White’s guitar in the Raconteurs’ slower songs and imagine how those Seattle skies would affect that kind of music. That is what’s heard listening through indie-folk rock singer/songwriter Shannon Stephens’ third release, Pull it Together, out of Asthmatic Kitty Records, hitting the metaphorical shelves May 22 this year. It’s a new sound for her this round, but fitting for the diary repertoire of lyrics she’s been known for her previous two albums; just a tinged Nashville blues-ier this time.
Stephens has a long musical history beginning in mid-nineties era Michigan as lead vocalist for Marzuki. After they disbanded several years later, she sought the rainy port-city to release her debut self-titled record in 1999, became overwhelmed with the idea of producing and performing, and ultimately decided to take a hiatus for the better part of the two thousand-aughts to live an agrarian life as a newlywed new mother. However, a Seattle local covering a song of hers from her solo debut sparked a second wind. So, along with said coverer, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Grammy Award winning engineer, Kory Kruckenberg (known most recently for working on scores for Rambo and Valkyrie in 2008 as well on albums of Damien Jurado and Rose Thomas) and a new country-esque lineup known as The Fabulous Friends (Jeff Fielder on guitar, James McAliser from Pedro the Lion on drums, Steve Moore on keys), Pull It Together, was born as another testament of the life Stephens lead for so many years in a small West Coast potato patch, raising a daughter.
This is evident in tracks such as “Girl,” which protectively advises someone fresh to life to a slowish 4/4 snare pulling along the picked electric blues riff and subtle poppy piano chops, as well as the latter-album’s “Buddy Up to the Bully,” which is the only one that hints at garage rock and confusingly ironic, depending on your opinion about the matter.
The real gold for Southern ears in Pull It Together lies in the tracks “Care of You,” a dark-rock country tune laced with just the right amount of banjo, unmuted snare (or McAliser is hitting the bass drum with a mallet) and very well-written lyrics right at home with anyone accustomed to the laments of the genre’s usual subject matter. Also, one of the final tracks, “Down the Drain and Its Gone.” Both sound like White sat in on the writing sessions, but this one in particular, music-wise, as it trudges slowly across the lower register’s rocky trail, Stephen’s voice and all.
Pull it Together can be found through links on asthatickitty.com, musicdirect.com, or through Stephens’ fanpage on facebook, www.facebook.com/thebreadwinner. Updates for the promotional tour can be found on these three sites too, with performances around our area the second leg of the tour in September, according to Stephens.