Shannon Shaw and her band The Clams have been producing great garage rockabilly albums since their debut in 2009. Now stepping out on her own for this solo album, Shaw is embracing a more polished sound inspired by a mix of soul, classic girl groups and vintage pop. Produced by label boss Dan Auerbach ‘Shannon in Nashville’ is a dramatic and engaging collection of songs which display a real raw vocal talent.
Drenched in nostalgic beauty, Golden Frames sets the tone for the album with its swirl of sixties pop. She sings about ‘baby pictures’ and ‘love notes’ hidden in a box – she wants you to know her heart is just too tender for this world. Bring Her the Mirror appears to be about a crazy dream, a slow unfurling song about shifting identities and unlocking life’s mysteries which sounds like a window to a more interesting past.
The standout on the album is the brutally personal Broke My Own, a hymn to the dangers of self-loathing. It’s an honest and unflinching assessment of herself but it doesn’t descend into misery, she turns her inner sadness into beauty in the way the best girl groups have always done. My worst enemy is my flesh and bone, she sings, demonstrating a real maturity in songwriting.
This combination of strength and vulnerability is further explored in Leather, Metal, Steel. She’s leaving, ‘before she forgets how to feel’. Freddies and Teddies continues the theme of frustrating relationships but here she quite frankly doesn’t give a damn anymore. You can hear her punk roots in the attitude of the song, just like in the opening of Crying My Eyes Out. Her music still has that doo wop and rockabilly influence of her work with the Clams but the rough edges have been shaded away somewhat.
Goodbye Summer is a sweet slow shuffle and Cold Pillows echoes a classic Elvis ballad, proving Shaw can convey the endless emptiness of heartbreak. The mix of modern flourishes and classic fifties pop sound on Make Believe is one of the highlights of the record, making you wish you were at the Rydell High dance off. Throw another Coal on The Fire, pour yourself a drink and put the needle back to the start of the record since you’re going to want to listen to this album more than once.
Shannon Shaw isn’t afraid to really belt out her songs from the bottom of her soul, stepping into the spotlight with ease. Despite the destination in the title there’s no obvious country influence on this album, which is perhaps the only slight disappointment, since she could easily sell a Tammy Wynette style ballad. Overall Shannon in Nashville has equal parts guts and glitter, which makes it an enjoyably cathartic experience for the listener.