by Donald Rumpert
After a long hiatus, we are reminded as to why we feel in love with Shannon McNally. Her last full-length album, Small Town Talk, the Songs of Bobby Charles released in 2013, was a rave success, but this latest endeavor harkens back to her 2005 Geronimo sound, an album that offered the listener an organically centered release. Rodney Crowell had asked to produce McNally in 2012, and the two of them stayed in touch via email. But after her marriage ended and she and her young daughter moved in with her parents so that she could care for her terminally ill mother, McNally found herself too depressed to write. McNally says; “A lot of artists like chaos, to me, chaos is chaos. Writing brings me peace.” Instead, McNally sent Crowell a recording of Emmylou Harris’ “Prayer in Open D” that she had made at home, and the two started to suggest other songs to each other. Eventually, McNally did write or co-write three of the album’s 12 songs (including one with Crowell), and Crowell contributed two more.
The opening track, “You Made Me Feel for You,” was penned by Crowell and serves as a symbol of sorts, signaling the route for the entire project. As Crowell and McNally continued to get to know each other, Crowell felt increasingly responsible to highlight her musical talents and re-ignite the centric of her pure talent. Co-writing the album’s single, “Banshee Moan,” the two focused on an anthem for working women, of course stemming from McNally’s experiences as a woman in a tough industry. McNally co-wrote two additional cuts, each with other co-writers; “I Went to the Well,” and “Roll Away the Stone.”
Covers include Stevie Wonder’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It” to Robbie Robertson’s ardently mesmerizing “It Makes No Difference” to J.J. Cale’s poignant “Low Rider.” McNally a soulful roots singer, one can always hear the blues in her delivery, so rightly so, she pays homage to Muddy Waters in a polished rendering of his tune, “The Stuff You Got to Watch,” and The Staple Singers “Let’s Go Home”.
An album worth the wait, with a collaboration that was meant to be. The result; an album that stacks up to Crowell’s former collaborations with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris; a sonically pure album that delights. A welcome back from a period of regrouping in life Shannon, Black Irish is a tour de force.