Shannon Stephens – Pull It Together

January 01, 1970

(Asthmatic Kitty)


Shannon Stephens’ third full-length is a rougher, harder-rocking affair
than either 2008’s Breadwinner or the
reissued debut. Stephens puts a survivor’s swagger into her jazzy, sinuous
soprano, swallowing the bitterest stuff life can throw at her, and spitting it
out in defiance. All but a few tracks smoulder with a blues-rocking heat,
whether in boisterous, boot stomping style a la “Care of You” or in the
minimalist thunder of “Wax and Feathers”, Stephens’ take on the Icarus myth. A
couple of the slow ones – “Cold November” and “Responsible Too Long” – make you
wonder what kind of torch singer Stephens might have turned into given half a
chance, but for the most part, she’s not here to mope and pine.


Indeed, Stephens turns a sharp and funny tongue to the job.   “Faces
Like Ours”, a duet with Bonnie Prince Billy, who jumpstarted her career in 2008
by covering “I’ll Be Glad,” skewers a certain narrow-minded brand of charity. “And
people are inclined to help…other people who look like themselves,” sings
Stephens, against a tremulous country waltz background, and she and Oldham
count the blessings – white skin, rich friends, good lucks – which may yet keep
them from destitution. Later, in “Your Fabulous Friends,” Stephens takes on
income inequality in fine sarcastic style. She may be attending party after
party in the same dress, unable to visit wine country and short of a great vacation
story (or a great vacation), but she’s not asking for anyone’s sympathy – just
listen to the sting in her voice (and the accompanying guitar) for proof.  


Stephens’ voice is, as ever, quite compelling, as capable of guts and
blues as of delicate trilling flourishes. She sounds stronger and surer than
ever here, her voice very supple as it slips around the corners, dipping in and
around the notes before settling into them. She is ably supported, too, by
three-piece band:  Jeff Fielder (Mark
Lanegan, Isobel Campbell) on guitar, James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the
Lion) on drums and Steve Moore (Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs) on keyboards. The
playing is uniformly solid, the arrangements balancing rock density and
reticence, but it’s Stephens’ own persona that lights up these songs. Her
strength, her intelligence, her dogged pursuit of happiness shines through in
every vibrato-tinged note. Near the end of the album, she turns a song called
“Down the Drain and It’s Gone” into a roof-raising gospel celebration, the end
of the world transformed into an occasion for hope and rebirth. Shannon
Stephens isn’t out.  She isn’t even down.
And if you let it, her Pull It Together could be the album that pulls you out of the pit, too. 


DOWNLOAD: “Care of You” “Faces


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