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Bentley’s Bandstand: The Village, Shannon McNally and Hot Sauce, Katrina Train

Posted By Karen Young On December 1, 2009 @ 12:05 am In Arts & Culture,Music,spotlight | No Comments

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Various Artists, The Village, 429 Records

thevillageTo find the spiritual center of New York City, head for Washington Square in Greenwich Village. There is an air of everythingness in the big park, that anything can happen and no one will be too surprised. Fan out from there through the Village, and life keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. It’s what makes New York remain mysterious. You just never can tell. To celebrate that urban neighborhood, thirteen artists raid the songbook of ’60s icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Michell and others who once called the Village clubs home. Like any similar roundup, there are bullseyes and misses, but the basic idea is brilliant. Rickie Lee Jones lights the fire with an unnerving “Sunterranean Homesick Blues” as only a true rebel like her can. It is chilling what she does to Dylan. Others covering the King Bard include the Duhks, Lucinda Williams, Rocco DeLuca and scene stealer Shelby Lynne’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” who turns the song into one that sounds like it was written specfically for her. Whew. And while the overall tone of the collection is slightly subdued — nobody gets mugged on a side street or has to sleep on the subway — there is a beatnik aura to everything so you can almost smell the old buildings. Next time it might be advised to go a little farther afield for songs. For now though, everybody hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.” And keep the dream alive.

Shannon McNally and Hot Sauce, Coldwater, SMR

shannonmcnalleyWander around the unruly roads of northern Mississippi. Go ahead and get good and lost; it doesn’t matter. Time moves so slow it feels like someone smashed all the clocks anyway. If you’re really lucky in your ramblings, you will come across a little spot called Coldwater. It’s not a town, because like a lot of things in the land of cotton you can’t see it — but it’s there. One way you’ll know is the Zebra Ranch, where for many years the musical shaman Jim Dickinson parked his soul among two double-wides and an old barn which exists beyond the realm. Bob Dylan pulled in once to have a look and touch the dirt. There, Dickinson helped make recordings that defy logic but inspire eternity. The man recently left the planet, but had the good sense to leave as an epitaph: “I’m just dead, I’m not gone.” Right on. One of the final albums he worked on is Shannon McNally’s latest, which has been released outside the regular routes of commerce but is most assuredly worth the search. This Southern woman has a way around roots music that just makes it feel like more. Her voice has travel a twisty route, but has found the sweetness that comes when life doesn’t win the wrestling match, even if seems like you’re getting pinned to the mat a little too often. Why is it those who find themselves in sticky situations with alarming regularity always have something to say we need to hear? Survival instincts? Oversized hearts? Gaping souls? Who knows, but as sure as the kudzu keeps growing and the Mississippi River continues flowing, the ones who get hurt but keep going are the ones we need to follow. Shannon McNally has not had a smooth ride. In the music business, it hasn’t been easy to find a place. Naturally, none of that matters. Listen to her sing Steve Young’s “Lonesome, Ornery and Mean,” which Waylon Jennings could have made his own ringtone, or Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” like she was one of the ones he might have kicked to the curb way back when. Even better, hear McNally’s own “Lovely” or “Bohemian Wedding Song,” and you will discover what it means to believe in something so much you’ll bet everything you own on it. Maybe that’s because what you’re really betting on is yourself, and for people like this artist that is all there really is anyway. Coldwater is soaked in a beauty that should not be missed. World boogie is here.

Katrina Train, Spilt Milk, Blue Note Records

51qPXtC4t9L_150Sometimes a new voice seems to come from nowhere, but feels like it’s been here a long, long time. That’s Katrina Train. Undoubtedly a huge talent and quite likely a major new star, Train also feels like she needs to find more of her own sound. Dusty Springfield’s ‘60’s album Dusty In Memphis is clearly her inspiration, and that’s a very good thing. Forty years ago, Springfield’s accomplishment was devastating. She had taken American soul music and made it totally her own. The twist here is that Katrina Train grew up in Savannah, Georgia but traveled to London to record Spilt Milk. Fortunately, she brought the homegrown heat of singers like Aretha Franklin and Lorraine Ellison with her. It’s not an easy feat to capture the power of people like those, but Train gets very close. Her voice is sometimes silky but always seductive, and she obviously has spent much of her young life listening to formidable influences like Franklin and others. What’s missing, though, is a strong enough sense of uniqueness. Producer James Hogarth, whose credits include Corrine Bailey Rae, Duffy and James Blunt, has painted these songs in somewhat the same colors as his other work, and not allowed Train the chance to be heard enough as herself. But that will come soon enough, no doubt, because underneath the strings, the horns and the rhythm section this young woman is ready to break free. You can hear it in the way she goes from soft to loud, easy to hard, and finds freedom when she challenges herself the most. When you also consider Katrina Train had a hand in writing these songs herself, which Dusty Springfield definitely did not on her classic, it gives hope and added cause for excitement that true music from the heart has found a best new friend.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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