Category Archives: Music

The End of the World as We’ve Downloaded It

by on April 16, 2013, as seen in Men, Ink.  In Tune

The world did not end on December 22, 2012. Hopefully you’re not too disappointed.

While this cultural milestone did not mark the end of the world as we’ve known it, I like to think it ushered in an era of more organic, face-to-face interaction.

The world as we know it involves technological escalation at the speed of light and sound—rates too fast for me to quantify. The more add-ons and updates, the more technophobic I become. It’s hereditary, I’ve decided: My mom never could figure out how to work the VCR. Read more…

The Revivalists: Cosmic Things

The Revivalists: Cosmic Things

01 March 2012 — by Jamie Lynn Miller
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The Revivalists’ Zack Feinberg (L) and David Shaw (R). Photo by Erika Goldring.

David Shaw laughs into the camera, and points to his New York Yankees ski hat. “Yeah, see, we’re in Connecticut now. We’re going to play Brooklyn tonight and I didn’t bring anything. I got this for three bucks at a gas station. I’m going be strutting my New York beanie tonight for sure, representin’.”

This was early December and the Revivalists were on tour, ramping up the momentum towards their upcoming release, City of Sound, for which they’ll play a CD release party on March 10 at the Blue Nile. Though Shaw’s in Connecticut and I’m in Colorado, we have a face-to- face, via Skype—almost. While I’ve mastered the science of recording across the Internet, my production computer doesn’t have a webcam. I can see him, but he can’t see me.

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The 7th Annual Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brewfest: Spicy, Full-bodied Fun in the Aspen Snowmass Sun

“Honey, you’ve got crumbs all over your lap,” said the woman to her companion, who was wolfing down a late-night slice at Goodfellas in Snowmass.

“Don’t worry,” he replied, matter-of-factly, the last of the pizza crust on his shirt. “When I stand up, they’ll all go away!”

Hard to argue with such micro-brew infused logic after a gorgeous summer evening of spicy chili, zesty hops and live music on the mountain. It was one of those magical summer weekends in the Aspen area, with strong and steady sunshine tempered only by the occasional floating cloud; no afternoon thunderstorms in sight. The 7th Annual Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brewfest was the perfect reason to spend the better half of two days on Fanny Hill.

 

 

 

My Boyfriend Bruce

I love Bruce Springsteen. That’s different than saying I’m in love with Bruce Springsteen and want to start a life with him, have his children, ride off into the sunset with the Boss while he gazes lovingly over his shoulder and slows his pace, as my horse trips over a tree stump. “If as we’re walkin’ a hand should slip free, I’ll wait for you, and should I fall behind, wait for me,” sings Bruce in If I Should Fall Behind, one of his more tender-hearted love songs: simple, to the point and full of innocent wonder at the beauty of his beloved.

It’s not that I actually wanna be Bruce’s beloved; that’s totally beside the point.  Although I’d love to take his warm Levi’s out of the dryer and search for my sock.  Our love is pure: we don’t need to speak, or make eye contact.  Or even meet.  We spend enough time together already.

I love Bruce for what he says, what he portrays, the stories he tells and the pictures he paints.  And surely, that has to be better for all involved: his wife, kids, band mates, touring schedule, his 62nd birthday…it just wouldn’t work out between the two of us.  I probably wouldn’t find him half as entertaining after a long day at the car wash, or coming home late from the factory after Mr. State Trooper’s pulled him over.  Again.

The Bruce I know is romantic, wistful, fearless (or at least, honest about his fears) and no matter how down and out he gets – no matter how many years Johnny 99 gets in the pen or how down bound that train’s gonna go – he’s always calling me darlin’, baby, hey little girl with the blue jeans on.  And I’m always his salvation, the reason he punches the time clock and comes home at the end of the day and whisks me onto the highway with the wind in our hair, or fetches me from the porch steps.  “Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely, hey it’s me and I want you only.”

It’s nice to be needed.

The age gap between us has never stopped me; I first felt the force of his attention in 1979, when I was nine years old and growing up in Southern California.  My older sisters introduced me to Bruce and facilitated our life-long love affair.  I coveted their Darkness on the Edge of Town 8-track with the typed-out title and Bruce’s rather unkempt hairdo du jour.   He kind of looked like Keniki from Grease, in his white wife-beater and that faded leather jacket – or maybe a less-coiffed Danny aka John Travolta.

My older sisters have always known good music, as has my older brother, but it was my sisters who really exposed me to Bruce and that era of Rock and Roll, with Pat Benatar (Blue 8-track, Crimes of Passion) ), Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold and Platinum and Steely Dan (LP).   My brother brought Squeeze, The Beatles, Men at Work, The Zombies and more English-leaning rock and roll; truly, I have only myself to thank for Bryan Adams, the Thompson Twins, Poison – and Morris Day and the Time.

Are you still reading?

Despite the entire 80’s and my varied lapses in all sorts of cultural judgment, fortunately, my sisters had already left their mark. And before they went off to college and left me to my own musical devices, they left me with an unwavering love of all things Bruce.

My sister Lisa actually had that beautiful Bruce song, If I Should Fall Behind,  as her wedding song.  Her husband had the musical appreciation and love for my sister (or savvy understanding of women) to wholly enjoy the first dance, as well.

Virtually none of my boyfriends have ever understood what I see in Bruce.  I don’t think any were actually jealous (hmm…maybe that’s why it didn’t work out!?) but I must say, I have an unwritten, instinctual rule: if a guy doesn’t get Bruce – or at least remotely understand the extent of his power over any red-blooded American woman – then he and I won’t really get each other.  He at least has to humor Him, and accept those days when I go from A-Z, sitting through Jungleland and obsessing over Devils and Dust and putting For You on repeat, over and over, pretending that Bruce is coming for me while I’m stretched out, strung out on the floor, on my way to Bellevue (emergency ward of said hospital, not the lovely avenue of mansions in Newport.) Sigh.

And he needs to understand that there’s so much more to Bruce than Born in the USA, but that that album certainly has its highlights.  And the title track isn’t one of them.

I love something on almost every Bruce album and some albums cannot be listened to except from start to finish, no track- skipping allowed.  I can’t defend Magic but really, one bogus album in over almost 50 years of making music? Even the Boss is human.

And that’s what I like about him.  He faces an inordinate amount of hardship, song after song, but he keeps singing.  Usually with a harmonica solo.  Life deals Bruce some hard blows, anywhere between 2:57 and 9:34 long, but he picks himself up, stares out at the horizon and perseveres.  He has a strong connection to the universe, races toward the light at the end of the tunnel and at the end of the day, and the song, he’s really into me.  And he’s always there for me.  Right there, in my glove compartment.

Like me, Bruce is addicted to emotion, and he passes the time with that barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain, until all their dreams come true.   And my family never owned a Dodge, or a Cadillac, or went drag-racing in the street.  So that definitely adds a little to his mystique.

Bruce is strong and handsome and has this twang in his voice that makes me think he’s from somewhere in the heartland, salt-of-the-earth material, even though he’s really from New Jersey.  And he hasn’t turned his back on his homeland which I’m sure can’t be said for everyone from New Jersey.  He looks unreal in Levi’s and, here it is, I’ve always had a thing for the blue-collar look and Bruce looks really good wiping the grease off his brow and smudging it on the sleeve of his rolled-up snap-shirt.  Though I’ve never seen him with an embroidered “Bruce” nametag, I’m quite sure he has a chain wallet somewhere in his armoire.

But is he really that blue-collar, or is he just a poser?  He’s wealthier than the Almighty at this point and certainly no longer needs to sing about – or even empathize with – the working man; but who he is after the show doesn’t really matter to me.

It’s what he stands for.

He’ll muddy his way to the bottom of the river and look for the shining thing that symbolizes our love.  He’ll search the pillow beside him for the tears we cried. “Didn’t you think I knew that you were born with the power of a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?”  Sigh.  “Reveal yourself all now to me, girl, while you’ve got the strength to speak, ‘cuz I’ve broken all your windows and I’ve rammed through all your doors…and you should know it’s true. I came for you, for you, I came for you.”

Thanks Bruce.  Somehow, I always knew you’d be there.  Even when you and Patti are on tour and she’s dry-cleaning the oil stains off your Levi’s.

If she finds my sock, tell her I loved you before you two ever met.

Sometimes I Think I’m Tift Merritt

Americana and roots music - No Depression

 

 

Resting across this floral couch, a two-seater love seat by the window, I feel the breeze coming through the muggy, sweet-scented night air. I’m taking in the humidity, the thick oxygenated air and the seaside climate of Newport, Rhode Island, and this warm September evening feels peaceful and temperate as the wind blows gently through my reading corner.  It’s the perfect couch for reading and, as I just discovered, moonlights as a pot-smoking corner, as well, when my hard-working friend Dan takes a break from his aches and pains after a long day as a carpenter.

When I’d visited a few weeks ago, the couch had doubled as my clothes shelf while I slept on the air mattress a few feet away.  “Nice couch,” I’d said and Stella, Dan’s wife, replied “Yeah, that’s where Dan smokes his pot.”  We snickered, and I ceremoniously thanked them both for lending me the drug lair so I could air out my bulging carry-on.

Stella’s a visionary artist who paints sweeping, bold, brightly-colored landscapes in oil on canvas, and this large room used to be her studio.  During that first visit, it was my guest room and creative corner.  Over the next week, I found myself totally jiving with the vibe of Newport in late August.  I flew home, rented out my place and used some air miles, which I’ve been stock-piling over the years to book a one way ticket back for September, the locals’ favorite month and, as Stella puts it, “the nicest month of the year.”

Sure enough, warm sunshine and fewer tourists – myself excluded – greeted me upon my return.  Week one found me on a long foam surfboard, standing up and mastering the white wash, riding the wave all the way in but not quite mastering how to gracefully exit the surfboard.  I noticed people smiling and nodding at me when I’d come out of the ocean, prompting me to laugh at myself (a common occurrence, really.)

I marveled at the perpetually humbling nature of the sport.  One minute, I’d catch the tail end of a real wave, on the right part of the break for milking a ride to the shore and I’d emerge triumphant from the sea.  Ten minutes and three waves later, I’d be pitched over the surfboard, leash dragging me deep down to the sandy bottom before I’d emerge, waterlogged and ego-boggled.  The ocean wins again.  The ocean always wins; you just need to figure out how to play by its rules.

It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re learning to surf.

To surf and to write and to be somewhere new, where no one knows my name, were my main objectives this month.  Tonight, as I enjoy the breeze and finish a book on Hank Williams, Sr. – an important distinction, that suffix – I feel content to be here.  On the box, Tift Merritt sings Stray Paper, singing the way she does, reflective, searching, subtle and understated, yet full of grace, like a fine French film.  Her sound goes perfectly with the rustling curtain, intermittently brushing my shoulder as I turn the last few pages of “Lovesick Blues”.

I first heard Tift at the 7908 Aspen Songwriter’s Festival in Aspen, Colorado, where she effused about the lovely piano at the Wheeler Opera House and her joy at being able to spend some time quality time with it. “I love the Wheeler Opera house and having a stage to myself and a beautiful piano,” she says in our interview. “I just remember that everyone was very sweet to me and I got to meet Allen Toussaint. And that the weather was lovely and made me not want to go back to the NYC concrete!”

Allen ToussaintI  recall her gracious stage presence, her easy way with her audience and her down-to-earth yet poetically worded observations: “we used to sleep real late and play our records loud”.  And now that it’s not so good, says the song, time to stop the madness.  “All the reasons we don’t have to fight any more about what we lost, things we swore,” sings Tift.   On to better things.  Morning is My Destination.  Time for Mixed Tapes and a Good-Hearted Man.

As I listen to the honest, revealing lyrics in I Know Him Too, exploring emotional entanglements with the emotionally unavailable, I’m beginning to think Tift and I have more than a few things in common.  I hesitate as I write this, lest I come across as too much of a fan.  I’m not dangerous, Tift;  I just have excellent taste in music.

For example: Tift, too, has a salt tooth, and she, neither, has a TV.  She tells me she’s a sucker for black and white movies and vintage French textiles – who isn’t? Those two don’t count.

But the list goes on.  Tift surfs; she hosts a public radio show; she likes to write and, according to her website: “can be found renting an apartment with a piano in a town where no one knows her.”   I like the sound of that tonight because that’s what I’m up to, too,  minus the piano and my two friends, downstairs.   Every now and then I play with re-inventing myself or, rather, immersing myself  in new surroundings. I like to be somewhere unfamiliar to observe who I really am, to notice what natural personal qualities rise to the surface.

Tift elaborates, for my better understanding. “It’s not like I’m looking to re-invent myself – I’ve always been who I am.  But I like being alone.  I like having time and space to look within and find something new, without feeling like I am neglecting something from regular life.  I like to have a chance to get outside of expectation and look deeper.   The hustle and intensity of life – how much I feel things – sometimes I need a chance to step back privately.”

A native of  North Carolina, Tift grew up amidst a diverse musical palette.  She’s been likened to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris, who’s a huge Tift Merritt fan herself, but I want to know who has influenced her music, without necessarily influencing her sound. “Generally, I am most draw to artists who have their own feel in such strong way that their writing is just steeped in a particular eye on the world.  Joni Mitchell.  Tom Waits.  Bob Dylan.  But sometimes you just admire how deep down the feeling comes from, like Percy Sledge or Mississippi John Hurt,” she shares.  “You don’t have enough time in your life to listen and learn from all that’s in the well of music.  It just depends on what you need to learn and are looking for on a given day.”

Ultimately, Tift developed her songwriting by way of prose writing, through the Creative Writing Program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   She’d been waiting tables, writing and playing gigs, working towards finding her own creative path, but calls her time at UNC a very formative experience in fine-tuning her career as an artist.  “I was trying to make a creative life and something of value for myself on my own.  I didn’t think anyone could teach me how to be an artist.  And in part, that is true.  But I was very isolated and alone, and once I was a student at UNC, I had a lot of wonderful, experienced writers around me who gave me some signposts and helped me join the world a little.  They taught me, most of all, how to be my own best editor.  There is a part of me that wonders if being a short story writer wasn’t where I belonged.  I could hole up in a farmhouse somewhere, stay home.  I will say for many years Eudora Welty was my hero and who I wanted to be like, because she was an innovator, wrote deeply, and did what she wanted, yet seemed also to be a very kind person.”

But then there was the red piano, the piano at the Wheeler Opera House – so many magical instruments waiting to accompany her thoughts. Words set to music resonated most deeply, as a form of expression. “I feel like the creative writing program armed me with a few tools to chip away and hold some ground, to mine something that powerful.  But music is such a vast and beautiful feeling,” says Tift.  “A really beautiful instrument is like a really beautiful person or a really beautiful turn of phrase.  It just sings.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect, or make sense.  It just has to speak in its own way and that makes all the difference.  I have a little 3/4 guitar that won’t quit right now.  It just has to feel good.”

Sonic BywaysWhile at UNC, she met her future husband and main collaborator, Zeke Hutchins, who set up his drums in her farmhouse kitchen and encouraged Tift to explore her music.  Tift’s played with Ryan Adams, Amos Lee and made some beautiful music for Lost Highway Records, named after the Hank Williams I’ve been reading about.  She’s won a lot of prestigious awards including the Americana Music Awards’ Song of the Year for the aforementioned Good-Hearted Man.   And she does the simplest, most  graceful rendition of Danny’s Song, my favorite love song of all time.

We talk about radio.  On my own public radio show, Sonic Byways, I explore the regional, musical, personal connections between artists.  I try to find out more behind the words and sounds that make me feel alive. One night, I feature Tift alongside the Drive-By Truckers and fellow Lost Highway recording artist Hays Carll; whether or not they’d be featured in the same music review, I’m not sure, but musically, the three artists’ sound and sentiment just go together. She’s hip enough to hold her own within that 60-minute set and her style strikes me as a little bit outlaw, when all chords are said and strummed.

Tift’s own radio show, The Spark, stems from a similar motivation to mine – to learn more about artists that inspire her, move her, add more mojo  to her own creative quiver.   Her focus extends beyond music, however, as The Spark features interviews and guests across the arts spectrum, including authors, poets and sculptors.

“I’ve learned a lot from The Spark interviews, and the main thing is that I’m not alone,” she explains. “My interview process is very instinctual and the whole thing is really simple.  I study someone’s work and then whatever makes me curious about how it was made, I ask them about.  I like to focus on how people turn corners, grow, keep integrity, and take risks in their process.   How process stays alive.  Sculptor Kiki Smith said she just does what occurs to her and somehow that really blew my mind.  OK.  Easy as that.  And it is.  Rosanne Cash told me her manners keep her rooted to the world when she gets lots inside.  I like that.  Somehow I’m always handed something about the grit and humility and belief necessary to keep going.  There’s no secret door.”

Tift likens her own creative process to leaping from great heights – over and over. “Process is such a huge question. Process by nature is a process.  It changes and it should change, but generally you just have to throw yourself off the cliff.  What keeps me on the path is me.  I love to practice. I love the feel and mystery of making things.  And if I didn’t have some place to throw all my intensity, I would really be in trouble.”

Just as I start to think Tift and I could fill in for one another on the air, that maybe we were separated at birth or during neighboring piano lessons, I learn that she’s an actual surfer.  As in, she surfs real waves.

I am in awe.  My own near miss with the real deal has left me giddy all day;  this morning, I inadvertently caught a Big Girl wave, as I call it.   As I stood up on my 9-footer, the ocean literally dropped underneath me, like I’d missed a step going down the escalator stairs. I was so startled that I shrieked out loud to no one and everyone, all at once, and instantly fell from the board only to wash all the back up on shore.

I realized I wasn’t ready for a real wave.

Tift, however, has spent many hours and many days nestled betwixt Big Girl waves. “I like surfing because it is a great thing to throw yourself into.  It wears you out in the best way,” she explains, mirroring my thoughts on the perpetual salt-water spin cycle that, for some reason, keeps me coming back.  “I like the timing of it all, getting that part right,” she continues. “I used to live next to my best friend on the ocean and we surfed everyday together.  We talked on the water, took waves, and helped each other carry the boards back. It was such a lovely period of time to have such a close friendship and something we loved to do together as an expression of that.“

While I listen to Tift, relaxing on my floral shelf, she’s on her way to spend some time with friends.  She’s working on a new record – we both call them records, not albums – but at the moment, she’s taking a breather. “I’ve been writing a lot and just seeing where it takes me,” she shares, “but I’m on a bit of a break from the road; right now, I’m headed to West Texas to see some friends and have a campfire.”

As much as I learn about Tift Merritt and what makes her tick, I’m not surprised by what I’ve uncovered. Anyone named Tift is bound to add something interesting to the mix.  “It’s a family name,” she explains. “And traditionally a man’s name.  I have a cousin Tift and an uncle Tift.  My brother and I have called a moratorium on naming anyone Tift for a while because it gets a bit crazy at Thanksgiving. “

For more info on the 7908 Aspen Songwriter’s Festival, visit: www.wheeleroperahouse.com.

For more on Tift Merritt: www.tiftmerritt.com.

 

 

 

Words, Music and Musings from Mississippi’s Shannon McNally

“I hate the term ‘female singer-songwriter’, or ‘woman musician’. It makes me recoil,” says singer-songwriter, accomplished guitarist and sought-after collaborator Shannon McNally.  I also hate hearing about ‘girls’ night out, or ‘ladies night’ – let’s get one thing straight; if you’re a lady, and you’re at a bar alone, you shouldn’t have to buy your own drinks.”

Matter-of-fact, down-to-earth and a local favorite in Aspen, Colorado, McNally is a blend of East, West and South, from Long Island and Pennsylvania to L.A., New Orleans and, most recently, the rural, blue-laden outskirts of the Mississippi Delta in Holly Springs, Mississippi. “I was 22 or so when I went out to L.A.,” she says. “I was an anthropology major at university in Pennsylvania, and I’d written like 3 songs. I headed to L.A. with my 3 songs, for a publishing deal, and got signed immediately. It was during the whole Lilith Fair thing, a good time to be a ‘woman musician’; before Lilith Fair, you’d hear maybe one female artist on the radio, followed by maybe an hour of men but after Lilith Fair, you’d hear the Indigo Girls, Jewel, Alanis Morrissette, all in a row ”.

Hence, the rise of the dreaded labeling and clustering of female musicians and the songs they write and sing.  “I was very young at the time, and had to suffer through the learning curve…the recording process was so long and drawn out, it took four or five years to get that first album (Jukebox Sparrows) recorded. It’s retarded, that it took so long!” she continues, with a laugh.

Shannon McNally

She worked with Jim Keltner on drums, well-known for beats with Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and recorded in the same studio where Willie Nelson’s ‘Teatro’ was made. “It was an amazing place to create and I learned so much about how to make a record, “she recalls.

The album is one of her best, featuring the autobiographical “Bury My Heart Down By the Jersey Shore” and the provocative “Down and Dirty”, yet the first song she ever wrote, the beautiful and tender “Pale Moon”, didn’t make that first album cut. “I wrote it for a crush, a guy I knew in college, who headed to Ecuador,” she shares. “I was listening to a lot of Emmylou Harris at the time; I love her music, particularly her later work.”

“Pale Moon” showed up about 15 years later, on 2005’s “Geronimo”, her main commercial success and produced by icon and future collaborator Charlie Sexton.

While in L.A., she worked with Neal Casal, prolific and talented singer-songwriter and lead guitarist with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals; the two released an EP, while Casal played in McNally’s band over the years. Soon, she got wind of Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft”, ominously released on September 11, 2001, and became a huge fan of both Dylan’s later work and his lead guitarist, Charlie Sexton. “I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to find Charlie and we had to play together; I put it out there in the universe,” she recollects, with a chuckle. Sexton not only produced Geronimo, but the two artists put out Southside Sessions EP, a haunting, organic album and a striking blend  of their individual and collaborative talents.

McNally’s influences are many, and diverse, from Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Dylan and Sexton, to Derek Trucks, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Allman Brothers.  “I grew up in the ‘70s, classic rock, classic country, when guitar ruled the world. I just really identified with the male guitar players.  Especially Santana. I first wanted to learn guitar because it was more of writing tool; really, it’s a way for women to make themselves heard…we’re still taught to be pretty quiet and that there’ll be a backlash if we’re vocal – writing and then playing the guitar is a way to get the emotions out, to unblock vocally,” she elaborates.

Although McNally shuns the label “female singer-songwriter”, she fervently believes men and women learn to play the guitar differently.  “Guitar is a lot like math, and I think that’s why more women don’t play it.  We need to look at guitar as a series of shapes: a scale, a chord, it’s like throwing a ball…girls aren’t taught how to do that, for the most part. We try to push it, no one tells us to step back; it’s all about how you hold the guitar.”

“When I first started, I would just sit there and look at it, because I didn’t really know how to play it.  Then I walked around for like 6 months with it, getting used to the feel,” she continues. “I’d walk around the house, do everything with the guitar around my neck. I even cooked with it,” she says; “It’s an extension of your body. like a hairdryer, or a big spoon you stir a pot with.”

After years in Southern California, it was time for a change of scenery. She met her husband in a record store; he was heading back to New Orleans, and she was ready to get out of L.A. for awhile. She relocated to New Orleans and got deep into the music scene and the culture. The couple was there for about five years, when Katrina hit.

“We evacuated to Holly Springs, Mississippi – and never went back,” says McNally. “When you evacuate in a crisis like that, you just go. It was completely against my will, but Holly Springs is an interesting place; it’s an old antebellum town and the houses are grandiose, dirt cheap, dusty…there’s lots of interesting thing for an anthropology major who likes poking around,” she says, mischievously.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Mississippi, McNally met the late Jim Dickinson, father to Cody and Luther of the North Mississippi All Stars and Hill Country Revue, a musical legend, timeless songwriter, endless collaborator and the main man of the Mississippi music scene. “He was wonderful, passionate man, a product of the culture and ideology, and practical and passionate about music and as an artist; he had a flock here.  People sought him for advice and for his contributions. He played on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, as well as with Big Star. His regional work was very important, but his scope and influence went far beyond.”

Shannon McNally

While honing her own craft, McNally’s been handling both the creative and administrative side, as well as a new job title, mother to 2 ½ year-old daughter Maeve. “Because I’m a woman, there’s a million things to get done and I’m constantly multi-tasking; it’s hard to clean the plate entirely, so I tend to write in pockets of time,” she says.

“I like to free-write, almost nonsense, then go back and find the pearls and string them together. Sometimes it’s just one word and it’s like a magnet; the shavings just come around it.  Writing a song is like getting a pedicure…I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I have some time this afternoon, I’ll do it.’  And then I think, well, why don’t I do this more often?

Musically speaking, there’s one thing for which she’s most grateful. “I have no love of trends,” declares McNally. “There’s always been something in me that makes me choose a certain direction. I have a pretty strong internal navigation system. I’m so intensely allergic to anything that doesn’t sound right to me.  Sometimes it can feel kind of burdensome and makes it harder to play the game in the music business…maybe I could have been bigger, but I’m past the point of selling out. But really, there’s no one in the music industry to sell out to these days,” she says, with a laugh.

“I’ve just never had an option not to follow my instinct. With music, I know what I like and what I don’t; and I’m grateful for that.”

She pauses, then confides, in a melodramatic whisper: “And I’ve always been allergic to the Low Spark of those High-Heeled Boys.”

Shannon McNally is a frequent visitor to both BellyUp Aspen and Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. She tours regularly in Colorado and her latest album, Western Ballad, is now available on iTunes.

Tune into Saturday nights to Sonic Byways on aspenpublicradio.org, 8 p.m. Mountain Time, for music from Shannon McNally and singer-songwriters across the country.

Photos Courtesy of Shannonmcnally.com.