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Shannon Wright - Over The Sun

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Artist: Shannon Wright

Album: Over The Sun

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Apr. 8, 2004

Shannon Wright is the kind of songwriter who invents her style as she goes along. She started out with a more traditional folk sound on her solo debut Flightsafety, but her later compositions seem to follow their own sense of harmonic movement and rhythmic patterns. She doesn’t rely on the conventional chord progressions, drum beats, and vocal melodies that identify certain genres of indie rock; rather, Wright reaches farther back to influences like Johnny Lee Hooker, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Gang of Four, though exactly how they shape her songs isn’t so obvious.

It’s a rare treat when a musician gets harder with age instead of mellowing out. On her fourth record Over the Sun, Wright’s voice has slipped further back into her throat, escaping only through clenched teeth. Her guitar riffs conjure up the raw passion of blues, her voice is used more like an instrument than a vehicle for lyrics, and her D.I.Y. ethic toward making music reflects a rebellious punk rock attitude. Wright is completely self-taught on both guitar and piano, surprising given the amazing precision and control on display.

That precision is taken a little too far on Over the Sun, which seems derived mostly from the same tempos, key signatures and rhythms, resulting in a rather homogenous tone. A few tracks break from monotony. "Black Little Stray" brings to mind classic-rock Neil Young, and "If Only We Could" is the most dissonant and erratic of the bunch with its clashing tritones and minor second intervals. Two songs feature piano rather than guitar, but continue in the same melancholy. "Avalanche" consists of slow jazz-like chords and rhythms reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, especially when Wright plays descending runs and frenetically pounds the keys while holding the damper pedal. On "Throw a Blanket Over the Sun," she arpeggiates the chords with her left hand and croons "No love is here" over and over, ending with a powerful wail.

Producer Steve Albini's fingerprints are all over Over the Sun. He captures an immediacy usually limited to live performances, and the drums have a resonating openness, perhaps Albini's more identifiable trait. It's as if he suspended a single mic from the ceiling above the drum kit and Christina Files (Mary Timony and Swirlies) just banged away. Wright's voice usually lies low in the mix, also contributing to creating the live sound.

Despite Wright’s claim that she doesn’t listen to many of her contemporaries, comparisons can’t be avoided. Her approach to arrangement is similar the aforementioned Timony’s and her raw delivery calls to mind P.J. Harvey. However, Wright’s songwriting is truly honest and untainted by the whims of current trends and her unique percussive style on the guitar shines through above all else on Over the Sun.

By Amber Drea

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