Shannon McNally's 'Jukebox' Holds Musical Variety
Shannon McNally may have been born and bred in Long Island, N.Y., but deep down she's got a dusty, Southern soul that's as rich as a tobacco field.Shannon McNally may have been born and bred in Long Island, N.Y., but deep down she's got a dusty, Southern soul that's as rich as a tobacco field.
Anyone fortunate enough to catch one of her backroads tunes on the radio or at one of her shows would probably describe them as sounding like an afternoon spent relaxing on a big porch in Louisiana. Her full-length debut, "Jukebox Sparrows" (released Jan. 15 via Capitol), is a slow-cooked, bait-and-tackle collection of guitar songs that pay homage to the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Neil Young, while maintaining plenty of their own earthy charms.
"Recording the album was a highly organic process," McNally says. "It was natural, because I worked with visionaries and great musicians."
Produced by Ron Aniello over 11 months at Cello Studios in Los Angeles, "Jukebox Sparrows" reveals itself as a surprisingly confident musical and lyrical offering for such a young songwriter.
Running the gamut from whiskey-drenched, slide-guitar rock songs to gentle piano ballad lamentations, the 27-year-old McNally exudes a cool and sexy presence from start to finish.
"I think the record is accessible. I really do," McNally says. "It has strong melodies, and I don't think it's over anyone's head. It's smack dab in the middle of everything. Lyrically, I create scenarios where the characters are observers, where the people are sort of watchers. I like the idea of being invisible. Songs are invisible; they come through you."
The first single, "Down and Dirty" is showing promise at triple-A radio, and a video for the song has been directed by David Palmer. The frolicking, upbeat number showcases McNally's dynamic, smoky voice, and it addresses being in love with an aloof and distant individual ("Don't you know I love you when you're down and dirty/Don't you know I love you when you're clean").
McNally attributes her soulful approach to songwriting as a product of her upbringing. "As a kid, I was just taken with things like being outside and animals," she says. "I was a real bookworm as a child. My parents and I spent a lot of time camping in Maine, and I was sheltered from pop culture a bit while growing up. I never paid much attention to it."
This childhood preoccupation with natural landscapes, along with a love of mythology and the literature of renowned naturalist/conservationist John Muir, eventually drew her to Irish folk music, as well as blues and R&B -- music she calls "clean air music."
McNally derives influence from commonly adored musicians to lesser-known, personally cherished favorites. "I like to keep the staple singers around me," she says. "I like Muddy Waters and Tom Waits. I've also been listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama."
Doneen Lombardi, senior director of marketing at Capitol, says "There really is no one else like Shannon. She sits between being mainstream, as in commercial radio, and being a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter. She doesn't necessarily fit into one specific genre or format. We believe that the combination of her amazing voice, her brilliant songwriting, and her spirit is what will strike a chord with a broad audience. This is really going to be a word-of-mouth kind of record. For us, Shannon is definitely a labor of love."
McNally earned a place at Capitol after years spent on the coffeehouse and small-club circuit. In the summer of 2000, she performed alongside artists Amy Correia, Kendall Payne, and Tara MacLean for the Girl's Room tour. She also played last summer on the Levi's second stage at several Stevie Nicks' concerts. In anticipation of the release of "Jukebox Sparrows," McNally is currently touring the U.S. with Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
"I love touring, and I love to perform," she says. "It fulfills the same feeling for me when I would go to concerts as a teenager. I would just be high for days and days; I'd be so excited. I try to stay balanced while on the road. I try to limit the roller coaster and not get too excited or too depressed."
McNally humbly accepts the comparisons to Raitt and Crow that people make of her music. "I grew up listening to Bonnie Raitt. I think she is a true blues musician, an honorable artist, and a wonderful example for young women. Music is definitely communal, and none of us exist in a vacuum. It's an honor to be grouped in with that kind of company."
McNally has also been mentioned in the same breath as other current roots-revivalist practitioners like Beachwood Sparks and Ryan Adams -- and she also feels at home within this community. McNally also recently recorded an acoustic seven-song EP, "Ran on Pure Lightening!" with kindred spirit and friend Neal Casal.
From a radio perspective, response to McNally has been favorable. "Her songs are soulful, they're funky and there's a rock'n'roll element to them," says Bruce Warren, program director at WXPN Philadelphia. "The album is well-produced, but has a very organic sound. She has a few of the elements artists need to make it: She can perform live, she's smart, and I think she cares about the people who listen to her music."
McNally's Web site (shannonmcnally.com) currently features downloadable versions of "Down and Dirty" and "Bitter Blue," both from "Jukebox Sparrows." She is scheduled to perform the song "Now That I Know" Jan. 23 on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and March 26 on "The Late Show With David Letterman."