Shannon Stephens – Pull It Together
Ashmatic Kitty artist Shannon Stephens, who years back was in the band Marzuki with Sufjan Stevens, first came to our attention in 2010 with the long awaited release of her self titled debut, writes Neonfiller.com’s Joe Lepper. This was originally due to be released in 1999 but coincided with an epiphany for Stephens. Quite simpy, she decided, family life with her husband, daughter and vegetable patch in Seattle was far more important than travelling across the US from radio studio to venue hawking the darn thing.
It took her a few years to get back into the music business again. Bonnie Prince Billy’s cover of her track I’ll Be Glad, from her debut album, helped revitalise her musically and in 2009 she recorded her second album Breadwinner.
Stephens is now back in 2012 with a third album Pull It Together, which is more expansive than her debut, which was largely acoustic guitar and vocal. Here there’s more of a band feel, with Sufjan Stevens band members Jeff Fielder and James McAlister involved along with some notable collaborators including Athmatic Kitty label mate DM Stith, and Bonnie Prince Billy.
It’s Bonnie Prince Billy’s contribution, as a duet on the album’s most political track Faces Like Ours, about racial and social inequality, that is likely to attract most interest. The combination of the two is just perfect, with both having an equal measure of fragility and strength in their vocals to set the track’s tone.
While on her debut we likened Stephens’ vocals to Suzanne Vega, here her range is broader, sometimes soft, English and folky, on others more akin to America’s country singing heritage.
It’s this mixture of folk and country that brings to mind First Aid Kit’s 2012 album Lion’s Roar, which will appeal to fans of Stephens.
There’s also an alternative edge on Pull it Together that may just broaden her appeal further, such as the mix of her soft vocals and abrasive Giant Sand-esque electric guitar on opener Wax and Feathers. DM Stith’s beautiful choral and piano contribution on Cold November is another highpoint.
Pull It Together’s welcome focus on family and friendship amid the cold drizzle of her native Seattle, makes it an album that is as cosy and warm as the open fire in her Seattle home.