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Review: Shannon McNally, Western Ballad

Shannon McNally
Western Ballad
[Sacred Sumac Records (2011)]

Chalk another album in aural auteur Mark Bingham’s archive of regional Americana recording posterity. His newest collaboration and production for Long Island songbird flown south, Shannon McNally, is a keeper. This disembodied poetic excursion features songs in English and French. Engineer/producer/multi-instrumentalist and reverb duet singing partner Bingham, a 1970’s pioneer of the Bloomington, Indiana nu song scene that produced enduring long playing records with singer-guitarist Caroline Peyton, here finds the skeleton keys to Shannon McNally’s original song nuggets. The adaptation of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Western Ballad” comes through trusty as a Magnavox.

A piquant musical mélange seeps and sashays from the Crescent City’s Piety Street Recording sessions. McNally’s seasoned ingénue singing style is positively imbibe-able. Craftily backed by legendary New Orleans musical mentor Amasa Miller (find the Pfister Sisters discography) on rolling piano and restrained accordion; Helen Gillet on cello and French translation help with “Tristesse Oubliée”; Dave Easley’s delicately celestially sourced pedal steel guitar; Karol Winton’s lap steel, bass, banjo, and 12-string guitar; and with James Alsanders’ clipped traps and suggestive cymbals riding percussion, Bingham creates an intimate boho tea-house ambiance.

“Toast” feels like hard-earned celebratory Miller Time. Dig the pedal steel starlight reflected off a skankin’ electric guitar and rhythm section cresting with McNally’s upbeat yet Caribbean laid-back vocals. McNally’s singing material pipelines into dreamtime with “Memory of A Ghost,” which may be among the most haunting entries in producer and singing partner Mark Bingham’s distinguished if under-sung oeuvre. “In My Own Second Line” brings up the rear without the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s kick, yet with Shannon McNally’s own sultry Orisha-escorted processional along moonlit riverine alleyways. If former Poco frontman Paul Cotton, now gone solo, is looking to follow up Caribbean flavored hits like “Heart of the Night” and “Barbados,” this is where he should be dropping anchor and fishing for his next songs.

—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)

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