Charlie Sexton
& Shannon McNally,
Southside Sessions
(Back Porch, 2006)

The very first cut opens with a sound right out of the classic Band, fiercely strummed acoustic guitars framed by drums, calling up ghosts on some imagined rural landscape. "Nothing Mysterious," written by Charlie Sexton and Tonio K., could indeed be a Band song, and a good one. Southside Sessions, an EP (seven songs and half an hour's worth of music), fuses rock, folk and soul sounds in the way Robbie Robertson and company did, though they did it without the assistance of a female vocalist of Shannon McNally's remarkable powers.

Sexton played guitar in Bob Dylan's band for years, and McNally has kicked around the music scene, doing several critically praised CDs (so I read; I haven't heard them myself) but never attaining the commercial success she clearly merits. The duo's influences aren't hard to discern, and two non-original cuts, Jesse Winchester's Zen-like meditation "Biloxi" and Townes Van Zandt's depressed-lover's moan "No Place to Fall," pay direct tribute to them. Dylan's influence is omnipresent (nakedly so on Sexton's "Burn"). Still, these are two very talented, intelligent people who manage to fashion a distinctive and appealing approach out of their own beyond-the-usual talent, exceptional performance skills and finely honed writing.

Sexton's production places the performances in stripped-down settings, small-band electric and near-solo acoustic, with emphasis always on singing and narrative. Southside Sessions feels happily unforced and unbusy, its reason for being simply Sexton and McNally's ambition -- fully realized -- to do some good songs well.

by Jerome Clark
16 September 2006

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