Published on April 27th, 2012 | by Dane Pennacchi0
Review: Shannon Stephens – Pull It Together
Putting It All Back Together
Shannon Stephens may hail from Seattle nowadays, but her roots are founded more in the middle of America. Back in the 90’s in Michigan, she formed an impressive folk partnership with Sufjan Stevens, among others, in Marzuki. Based on that impressive pedigree, one may expect a lengthy list of musical adventures took place. However, after the split of Marzuki, Sufjan went on to be well…Sufjan, and Shannon Stephens took a break. A long break. A span of eight years passed before she released The Breadwinner in 2009. Now in her mid-30s, Stephens is more polished and confident, if re-acclimating to the scene. While a younger artist putting out their third release may still be searching for that voice for sustainability, Stephens simply does not have energy to give a shit what people (think) about me anymore”.
One can hear that attitude in her new record, to be released May 22nd, called Pull It Together on Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stephens applies a fairly direct approach to her music. While many female singer-songwriters and vocalists are searching for a kitschy or unique sound (usually squeaks?), Stephens relies on a very natural and glossy voice. A good example of these no-nonsense vocals can be heard on Cold November”, this writer’s personal favorite on the record (although Down the Drain and it’s Gone” gives it a helluva run).
Stephens said, in 2009 (altmusic.about.com Aug 4, Anthony Carew), she had felt a kind of jealousy that many of her peers had gone on to achieve some degree of musical success. She focused on other things; family and other priorities took the place of music. Pull It Together showcases, more or less, this jilted feeling. It is not a cute album, but it does not get too gritty either. There’s a tempered sensitivity that maybe only someone in Stephens’ position can understand. Some tracks could have benefited from maybe a little more dirt in the teeth.
But this boils down to simple preference, and one should make an independent conclusion.
It must be assumed that trying to find your niche, again, is a process. In the rain-drenched musical oasis of Seattle, there are easy-to-find barometers. If we place Damien Jurado as the luminous godfather, David Bazan as some sort of mystic stepson, Head & the Heart as the carefree cousins, Pickwick as the soulful black sheep, Death Cab as the rich uncle, and Carrie Brownstein as the quirky neighbor kid, we could place Shannon Stephens in this pantheon as a phoenix-esque prodigal.
She still has some work to do, some kinks to work out, some groove to get in that pocket to maximize her potential, but she is back on the radar. And that is a good thing for music.