Shannon McNally,
Jukebox Sparrows
(Capitol, 2002)

Jukebox Sparrows, Shannon McNally's major label debut, is most impressive, not just for the music, and not just for the fact that it made my list as one of the 10 best releases of 2002, but for the fact that a major label would release such a work of quality at a time when most majors worry more about finding the next teen/rap sensation. McNally could most easily be compared to Joan Osborne or Sheryl Crow, but I'd suggest Bonnie Raitt crossed with The Band with a little dash of Allman Brothers and Little Feat. All of the tracks on Jukebox Sparrows were either written or co-written by McNally.

"Down & Dirty" is the killer leadoff track, which listeners will find every bit as impossible to resist as would the person who is being sung to, "Don'tcha know I love you when you're down and dirty, don'tcha know I love you when you're clean," indeed. I should mention here that McNally combines sexy and sultry in a potent combination. This is straightforward American folksy rock; powerful rhythm section of bass and drums with guitars, keyboards and strong vocals. "I'll Always be Around" layers the sonic textures with rhythm and lead guitars mixed with keyboards for a song that reveals its pleasures slowly with repeat listening, plus we get to hear McNally say "put your lips together and blow."

"Now That I Know" is also single-worthy, co-written by Eric Bazillian, a co-founder of Philadelphia's Hooters (the group not the restaurant) who also wrote "One of Us" for Joan Osborne. This has another unstoppable hook, with McNally sounding a little like Shelby Lynne. The backing musicians are superb throughout, as is the production by Ron Aniello who also played keyboards. Sitting in on the sessions were the likes of Jim Keltner, Benmont Tench, Lenny Castro, Bob Glaub, Bill Payne and Waddy Wachtel, among others.

Co-written with Barry Reynolds, "Colorado" starts all slow and moody with a nice guitar and bass combination producing one evocative piece of music. "Bolder Than Paradise" has a slow smoldering style guitar, sounding like Lucinda Williams meets Little Feat, and although the melody never really gets going, the production is just great. "Start All Over" sounds just slightly country. "Bury My Heart on the Jersey Shore," with its second half sung as "sha-la-la-la," sounds sort of like a nod to the guy who put Asbury Park, N.J., on the musical map. This record works better if you skip the last track; the title poetry is OK as printed in the CD booklet but on disc, the hipster-jazz-beat-poet treatment is a bit much.

On stage McNally comes across as cool and confident while being totally warm and sexy at the same time (how does she do that?), plus she apparently knows her way around her Fender Strat, as does bandmate Neal Casal. She gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance of tunes from this album as well as some choice covers like Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," her rendition having more in common with The Band's version than Dylan's. With a multitude of attributes at her disposal, including songwriting, singing and guitar playing, not to mention being easy on the eyes, Shannon McNally has a bright future as a recording artist with unlimited potential. Jukebox Sparrows is an excellent debut, but seems to only scratch the surface of her talent.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 2 August 2003

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