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John Shannon/John Shannon & Wings of Sound: Songs of the Desert River *

Album Notes

American Mystic, singer and songwriter John Shannon's debut album, was compared to everyone from Nick Drake and John Martyn to Tim Buckley, though none of them fit very comfortably. Shannon's writing, singing, and musical approach are inherently of his own design. Songs of the Desert River, issued on ObliqSound's Creek Valley imprint, features his excellent, intuitive backing band Wings of Sound: Dan Brantigan (flügelhorn), Garth Stevenson (acoustic bass), Ziv Ravitz (drums), and Caroline McMahon (backing vocals). Recorded in Paris and New York (where he resides), Shannon's quiet, spacious songs reflect the inherent mysticism found in the natural world and the changes they affect in everyday life, in essence creating music that contrasts physical and psychic geography and one's reaction to them, a spiritual practice. The mercurial, elliptical character in Shannon's sound can be found in "Darkness," the album's opening track. His spare, deliberate, crystalline, acoustic guitar and tenor voice introduce a song about the gift of being in an emotional space where choices may be required but can only be discovered in the process -- to paraphrase Rilke -- of living the questions. McMahon's ghostly backing vocal highlights his lyrics wordlessly; Brantigan's flügelhorn slips in and out of the mix before Stevenson's bowed bass creates a centering drone, weaving all elements together in the realm of pure sound. There is an elegant, hushed beauty in the simple, yet directly assertive melody and ethereal percussion in "Desert River," even as the song illustrates poignantly all the places we hide in plain sight. The labyrinthine lyricism in "Spirits on the Same Train" shimmers with glimpses and sense impressions of the elemental divine that is ever present. Despite its title, "Hurricane" is one of the gentlest songs on the record, tender but unflinching in its self-examination of emotionally turbulent territory. The band highlights Shannon's deliberately unhurried vocal, which flows effortlessly with the music's woven texture and dynamic flow. "New Winter," near the record's close, seems to encapsulate all of Shannon's gifts into one setting. Here folk, jazz, chamber pop, and lyric poetry converge with pronounced images from an altogether idiosyncratic yet utterly accessible individual style. Closer "Into the Unknown" embraces difficulty as opportunity; it's the matter-of-fact price for inner change, as both singer and backing musicians function as a seamless whole. Songs of the Desert River is deceptively simple in its articulation of the profound, yet remains utterly mysterious; its abundant beauty resonates long after its final song echoes, then vanishes into the realm of silence. ~ Thom Jurek


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